Guest Commentary

The time has come for Kansas City to fund pre-K education

When we create an environment where we have well-educated children, businesses will grow and thrive — and a thriving community begins with starting our children off on the right course.
When we create an environment where we have well-educated children, businesses will grow and thrive — and a thriving community begins with starting our children off on the right course. File photo

Over the past month, there have been several articles, an editorial and letters to the editor regarding Mayor Sly James’ proposal to raise Kansas City’s sales tax, with the proceeds to be dedicated to quality early learning for our 4- and 5-year-old children. There are aspects concerning the effort that still need to be resolved, but there are two important details that we know for certain: Voters will be asked to raise the sales tax by three-eighths of a cent, and quality early education makes a difference for children.

Parents who want quality early learning for their children but can’t afford to pay for it themselves most likely would not hesitate to approve the increase. Yes, our sales taxes are already too high, and they are regressive. But if we don’t take this initiative now, when will we give our children the help they need?

Research over the past decades has demonstrated without question the benefits of quality pre-K education. These include improved school performance, increased language proficiency, improved social interaction, lower dropout rates and even increased participation by parents. These are but a few of the evidence-based outcomes of quality early learning.

If we don’t attend to the educational improvement that really begins at birth, our students risk losing the ability to leave school with creativity, problem-solving skills and a passion for lifelong learning. Ultimately, America’s ability to compete in the global economy, and even our democracy and way of life are in jeopardy. Our children deserve more than they are getting, and excellent early education is an important beginning.

Take a moment and consider that approximately half of the third-graders in the Kansas City metropolitan area’s public schools read at what educators refer to as to as the “proficient level.” This means that the other half of our third-graders are functionally illiterate.

Remember: Up to the end of third grade children learn to read. After that level, students must read to learn.

When we create an environment where we have well-educated children, businesses will grow and thrive — and a thriving community begins with starting our children off on the right course. That is why strong families and high-quality early education are so critical to our future prosperity. These programs provide the foundation upon which children will build successful careers and lives.

For years, civic and business leaders have said, “This is not the right time for a new tax for children. There are more important issues we must fund.” As I look back at our past city administrations, I agree that there were other important issues brought to our voters to approve. And approve they did. But now it is time to build our human capital — our young children.

Is this tax the right issue now? Yes. Is three-eighths of a cent the correct amount of money to make a difference? Yes. Are there other ways to fund quality early education? Perhaps.

But we have been looking for decades. Every time we come up with an alternative, it seems the naysayers tell us it just will not work.

But if not now, when? Our children are waiting and falling further behind. The time has come for us all to step up and say, “Quality early learning is good for the children, and I am voting yes.”

Jim Caccamo is director of the Ignatian Spirituality Center of Kansas City. He is the former director of the Department of Early Learning at the Mid-America Regional Council.

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