Kansas City’s plans for an August tax election for early childhood education need a last-second save from lawmakers in Jefferson City.
The Kansas City school board is planning a meeting Wednesday to consider sending a $1.05 levy increase proposal to voters, but it may not matter if a critical piece of legislation doesn’t pass before legislators adjourn Friday.
The concept itself has sailed through, with heavy majorities voting for the bill in the Senate and the House. But the House version was passed with amendments, including one that has tripped up support.
The bill was headed back into a conference committee, expected Thursday night, and then would need to make it out for a vote during the crowded rush of the legislative session’s final hours.
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The problem lies in a House amendment that would establish a voluntary state quality rating system for early education programs — an issue that has divided lawmakers in the past. Sen. David Pearce said he hopes a joint conference meeting can resolve the split.
“I’m optimistic,” said Pearce, the sponsor of the bill, Senate Bill 996.
Leaders of the Kansas City Early Learning Commission, which has been working three years to this point, are watching anxiously.
“Everyone’s in favor of early childhood education,” Kansas City attorney Herb Kohn said Thursday. “But then you get into subissues.”
The pending legislation would allow all revenue generated by the special levy to pass through the school district to the Early Learning Commission to administer the program. The $1.04 increase would be added on top of the district’s levy of $4.95 — one of the lowest among Jackson County school districts. The average levy of other Jackson County districts is $5.89 per $100 assessed valuation.
Without the bill, roughly 40 percent of any funding raised in a tax levy in the Kansas City school district would pass through to the nearly two dozen public charter schools in the district. The charters would not be obligated to dedicate the funds to early learning.
Charter schools are supporting the bill, which would not reduce any of the funding for K-12 education currently distributed to the district and to charter schools.
Charter schools that develop early learning programs, as well as other public and private programs, would have the opportunity to qualify for portions of the public funding if the levy were to pass.
Questions also have surrounded the bill’s request for an emergency clause.
If it passed with the clause, it would become effective once it was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon. Without the clause, the bill, if passed, would not take effect until Aug. 28 — well after the Aug. 2 election date the Early Learning Commission is hoping for.
The emergency clause was voted down in the House version, but legislators may take another look.
No revenue would be generated by the levy until January 2017, but it was unclear Thursday if an election could go forward Aug. 2 without the emergency clause.
The question of an election also still rests before the Kansas City school board. The board Wednesday watched a presentation reviewing the plans and three years of work of the Early Learning Commission and scheduled another meeting for next Wednesday, potentially to vote on whether to put the issue on the ballot.
“We’re very pleased with the leadership (of the Early Learning Commission) … to realize the goals we asked them to help us accomplish,” Kansas City school board chairwoman Melissa Robinson said.
A lot of pieces need to fall into place if the board is to be in a position to decide on an August election, she said, but “we will take it up.”