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Citing 'Acrimonious' Political Environment, Kansas City's Mayor Tables Pre-K For April Ballot

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Mayor Sly James announced Friday that he's pushing the pre-K sales tax to April's ballot.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced Friday he will temporarily table his plans to fund pre-K education with a 3/8-cent sales tax, a quick reversal of his impassioned push to get the issue on the November ballot.

"Despite the fact that we've been talking about this issue for years, some people still appear to need more time," James said.

In July, James rolled out a petition campaign to get the measure on November's ballot, which he said would make early childhood education more affordable by raising more than $30 million per year with the sales tax.

But after Friday's announcement, the issue will be pushed to April's ballot. 

Kansas City Public School District superintendent Mark Bedell told KCUR's Steve Kraske on Friday that he was thankful for the mayor's decision.

"I'm happy the mayor has decided to listen to us," Bedell said. "We've been talking over months, and I've expressed my concerns."

Those concerns, voiced also by city councilmembers, have to do the funding model and how exactly the money and efforts will be distributed across schools and districts.

Gwen Grant from the Urban League said she's also pleased with the mayor's decision. Grant told KCUR she would like to see a property tax considered rather than a sales tax, as well as economic development reform at City Hall. 

Bedell believes the mayor's decision to wait until April to bring the ballot measure was, in part, a response to concerns voiced by Bedell and other stakeholders in the community. 

But on Friday, James seemed disappointed by the delay. 

"Unfortunately, this conversation over our pre-K plan has become all about the agendas of adults than the needs of our children," James said. He also emphasized that he wanted this extension to be an opportunity for those who have concerns to come forward. 

Also behind his decision to postpone: He said didn't want the issue to get lost in an "increasingly acrimonious political environment." Going forward, he said, the conversation needs to be about the children. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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