Some Kansas City leaders oppose early childhood tax proposal

March 31, 2019

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposal to expand early childhood education across Kansas City is receiving pushback from some school and nonprofit leaders who say increasing the sales tax to fund the idea would be inappropriate.

Mayor Sly James is proposing a three-eighths of a cent increase to fund the opening of preschool centers in parts of the city where none exist, making them available to low-income families. James believes too many Kansas City children enter kindergarten academically behind their peers who attended a quality preschool program, and many are unable to catch up, the Kansas City Star reported.

The city estimates that about 34 percent of the approximately 6,750 four-year-olds in Kansas City attend “high quality pre-K,” according to the mayor’s plan.

The tax proposal would raise about $30 million a year to provide tuition discounts on a sliding scale, based on household size and income up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line.

A household of three could qualify for some assistance if they made about $83,100 or less. The poorest families wouldn’t pay any tuition.

Discounts would also depend on the quality of the provider, with tuition around $12,000 for advanced programs, $10,000 for slightly lower-quality programs and $6,000 for “emerging” providers that have some areas for improvement.

Most local leaders support expanding preschool access to all Kansas City children, but many question the use of a sales tax to fulfill that goal.

Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, expressed concern that the tax takes a bigger portion of income from the poor than the wealthy. The tax increase would mean that every Kansas City resident would pay an additional $60 a year on average.

“This tax is definitely regressive,” Grant said. “Research and history tell us that low-income families pay more for goods and services.”

Grant called it a “burden on low and middle income people and the elderly.”

Some school leaders question using taxpayer money to fund private education. Superintendents of the city’s 14 school districts announced opposition to the proposal in December.

The district leaders said they have plans to achieve universal preschool access within their boundaries. The systems plan to add about 780 new preschool spots next year. Kansas City Public Schools announced its intention to create about 120 preschool spots each year for the next five years, without a sales tax.

Voters will weigh in on the issue April 2.