Kansas City mayoral candidates answered an extensive questionnaire from The Star on the major campaign issues. Here are their responses to questions about pre-K, edited for clarity and length.
Do you support Mayor James’ proposal to expand access to pre-K with a 3/8-cent sales tax increase?
Scott Taylor: No. “As a former school board member, I understand the benefit of pre-K to preparing a child to succeed...I am concerned that all public school districts appear to be against this, as they feel there was not collaboration up front. There are concerns with the administrative structure. There are also concerns with the tax.”
Alissia Canady: No. “This ballot measure is a regressive tax to support a function that is the responsibility of the school districts--that also do not support this. I believe the remaining 3/8-cent taxing authority should be used to support priorities established by the council--not an initiative petition group.”
Quinton Lucas: No. “I share the Mayor’s view that this issue is very important but...the superintendents’ questions are worthy ones that, until answered, compel me not to support the plan as currently envisioned. I’d also add that we should be collaborating with our districts, like KCPS, which is doing its best in a while—not fighting them on it.”
Steve Miller: No. “I find it hard to support the current proposal—but I am still willing to be persuaded. I am passionate about the importance of pre-K education...Our community is very divided on this issue and much of that division stems from the way in which this proposal came about, concerns about the funding source and disagreements on implementation.”
Scott Wagner: No. “The tax increase represents $30 million a year...There is nowhere in this City that I have gone where pre-K is a priority over crime, economic development, affordable housing or anything else. It would seem any taxing authority we have should be pursued for these more pressing issues.”
Phil Glynn: No. “The plan is opposed for various reasons by Superintendents, school boards, teachers and other educational leaders across our community who specialize in educating Kansas City’s kids. Second, a sales tax will only add to the financial burden of working families in our community.”
Vincent Lee: Did not respond.
Jolie Justus: Yes. “In the absence of action on the state level, I am willing to take a chance on a local solution. I have seen the success of similar programs in other cities...Data shows that kids who enter kindergarten after attending quality pre-K are more likely to succeed moving forward...Failing to increase the number of Kansas City kids participating in high-quality pre-K is failing our kids and it’s also failing our city.”
Jermaine Reed: No. “I do not support an increase in sales tax to expand access to pre-K. Sales taxes take a larger percentage of income from low-income earners and are therefore regressive.”
Henry Klein: No. “I support the idea of pre-K but i do not support the mayor’s plan which involves a regressive sales tax. In creating pre-K options, I would like to see the actual schooling options clearly spelled out and make it as easy as possible for all parents to find high-quality schooling options.”
Clay Chastain: Did not respond.
If no, what, if anything, should be done to increase access to quality early childhood education?
Taylor: “If it passes, I would hope that the next mayor would be able to sit down with the superintendents and modify the administrative structure.”
Canady: “Voters should support school districts with a Mill levy increase to direct funds to public schools that are willing to provide free pre-K.”
Lucas: “We should work with the school district group both in ongoing advocacy in Jefferson City and in crafting our own program that can be funded through locally-raised sources, including, but not limited to, a long overdue mill increase in KCPS. We also should...look to reduce our use of incentives or to shorten the applicable time frame so that money returns earlier to our school districts. Additional revenue to schools could be used for early childhood programs.”
Miller: If elected and ballot question is defeated, “I will work collaboratively to build consensus around a more narrowly focused plan or pilot that might serve as a springboard to an even broader plan...If the pre-K measure passes on April 2, I will work closely with all stakeholders...to ensure that taxpayers get full benefit from this important investment.”
Wagner: “Challenge our school districts to create more and better options. All of them I speak to say they are up to the task, and in many cases are doing things already.”
Glynn: “City officials can best support early childhood education as well as K-12 by stabilizing neighborhoods and families. Kansas City must invest in housing, jobs, transportation and timely delivery of basic city services That stability over time will increase educational achievement. It will result in economic growth and the tax revenue that will support all forms of public education, early childhood included.”
Lee: Did not respond.
Reed: “The best way is through a mill levy. Over 50 years have passed since we increased property taxes to fund our public schools. Since then, we have accrued over $400 million in deferred maintenance issues, and our ability to expand access has been limited.”
Klein: “My campaign has proposed a department of education within the mayor’s office to coordinate all of our efforts with the various school districts that function within Kansas City. Further, we are proposing a Lebron James model ‘I Promise’ school here in KC...to help at-risk children by providing extra services that children and families need while helping fantastic but overwhelmed teachers get the real resources they need.”
Chastain: Did not respond.