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Kansas City School Districts Support Pre-K, Oppose Paying For It With A Sales Tax

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell and other opponents of the proposed pre-K sales tax held a news conference on Monday.

Kansas City’s tangled school boundaries will make the mayor’s pre-K plan difficult to administer, opponents argued Monday at a news conference in the Northland.

“North Kansas City as a whole has 14 different municipalities, causing huge concern for our board of education and our community that only one of our 14 municipalities would be eligible for resources within the mayor’s plan,” said North Kansas City Superintendent Dan Clemens.

There are 15 school districts within the city limits of Kansas City. Some of them are mostly in the city – Kansas City Public Schools, Center, Hickman Mills – while others absorb just a few outlying neighborhoods into their school systems. But they’ve been unanimous in their opposition to Mayor Sly James’ plan to pay for pre-K with a three-eighth cent sales tax since he rolled it out last summer.

They’re opposed for three reasons. First, they dislike the governance structure, which they say doesn’t give educators an adequate voice. Second, they question the constitutionality of a plan that would send tuition money to private and parochial schools. And third, they argue that sales taxes are regressive and would hurt the families it’s trying to help.

“Using economic development tools to fund early childhood, I have a problem with that,” said KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell.

Bedell has been an outspoken opponent of diverting money meant for local school districts for economic development projects. The district loses out on at least $30 million in tax incentives each year.

“If we could receive some of that money back, think about the wonders of what we could do for early childhood,” Bedell said.

James’ plan has many supporters, however, including several prominent charter schools and major employers like Husch Blackwell, Hallmark and Children’s Mercy.

James, who is in his final term, has said the three-eighth cent sales tax is the only viable way to pay for pre-K in Kansas City short of legislative support. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has proposed spending $6 million statewide on early childhood education. The proposed sales tax, by contrast, would generate about $28 million.

Voters will cast their ballots April 2.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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