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Kansas City Voters Listen To School Superintendents, Rejecting Pre-K Sales Tax

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3 file photo
Kansas City Public Schools students participate in a summer kindergarten camp. Teachers say pre-K helps prepare kids to start schools, but the district opposed the mayor's plan to pay for early childhood education with a three-eight-cent sales tax.

Kansas City voters have rejected Mayor Sly James’ plan to pay for universal pre-K for 4-year-olds with a three-eighth-cent sales tax.

Supporters of the plan argued it would improve access to high-quality early childhood education across the city, but James quickly lost the support of the public school superintendents, who said they were cut out of conversations about how it would be funded.

The superintendents argued that using a sales tax for pre-K would hurt low-income families, who have the least flexibility in their budgets. The school leaders also objected to spending taxpayer money on private and parochial pre-K providers.

“I think as a community we should all take pause when the school board members that you've elected in each of the 14 schools systems that serve Kansas City say, ‘This is not the way to educate our students,’” Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell said before the election.

Currently, districts pay for pre-K with a combination of funds, including federal dollars earmarked for high-poverty schools.

Kansas City Public Schools tweeted Monday that it would have 1,268 pre-K seats for 3- and 4-year-olds for the 2019-20 school year, the same number as this year. Some proponents of the mayor’s plan had said the number of seats in district schools would decrease if voters did not approve the sales tax.

But short of a massive investment in early childhood education at the state level, it’s not clear where additional dollars for any other pre-K programs might come from in the future.

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

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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