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Taxpayers Demonstrate Willingness to Fund Early Childhood Education

Michael Nutter

June 12, 2019

Voters across the United States have shown that pre-K education is one initiative they’re willing to fork over their hard-earned dollars to fund.

Though public school funding is largely determined at the state and national levels, local voters aren’t completely without a say over where their tax dollars go. Thanks to Substitute Senate Bill 226, which Governor Kasich signed into law in March 2018, county school financing districts in Ohio are permitted “to levy taxes for provision of school safety and security and mental health services, including training and employment of or contracting for the services of safety personnel, mental health personnel, social workers, and counselors.”

In the past, tax levies have been directed toward improving things like school security, but in recent elections, another initiative has started to gain traction: pre-K. In Ohio and elsewhere, strong pre-kindergarten programs appear to be something voters are eager to support, even if it means an increase in their taxes.

Voters’ enthusiasm is well-founded, as the benefits of pre-K have been clearly documented. Compared to peers who don’t attend preschool, pre-K participants are less likely to commit crimes as adults or to become pregnant as teenagers. Additionally, they have higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes, and they’re more likely to receive immunizations and screenings and to get dental care than other children their age.

That’s why residents in a number of cities throughout the United States are finding ways to fund pre-kindergarten, even if their states don’t have measures in place with which to provide universal pre-K.

Seattle Doubles Down on Pre-K

In late 2018, 68.5 percent of Seattle’s residents voted in favor of the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Program levy, the largest-ever education tax proposed by the city. Officials pitched the levy as a way to reduce the educational disparities currently experienced by many low-income students and students of color in the city.

More than half the money from the levy, or just over $340 million, has been dedicated to the expansion of the Seattle Preschool Program, a public preschool program specifically designed to serve children from families making 300 percent of the federal poverty level — $75,300 for a family of four — or less.

The program has already proven to be a huge success. During the 2017-2018 school year, its students made significant strides on vocabulary, literacy, and math tests that were administered at the beginning and end of the year. The recent levy will further expand the preschool program, making it more accessible to more families and securing its funding for years to come.

Mixed Results Elsewhere in the Country

Two years prior to these events in Washington, a similar scenario played out right here in Ohio. In November 2016, voters in Cincinnati approved a five-year tax levy to fund a city-wide preschool program. The levy passed with almost two-thirds of the vote, and should generate around $48 million every year until 2021.

Despite Seattle’s and Cincinnati’s demonstrated willingness to fund pre-K — and public education more generally — other cities have opted against following suit. For instance, in April, voters in Kansas City resoundingly rejected a tax hike that would have funded a pre-K program that would have been available to all the city’s residents. In an interview with The Kansas City Star, one anonymous voter griped that he was “tired of being taxed.” He added, “I pay enough taxes as it is. I think our school district in North Kansas City can take care of its own.”

Though it’s understandable that residents of Kansas City and other cities across the nation would be loathe to pay more taxes, the reality is that high-quality instruction — even in pre-K — is often costly. Indeed, as Monica Liang-Aguirre, Director of Early Learning for the City of Seattle, explains, “We took the slow approach: quality over quantity. Now our challenge is to scale up and maintain the level of quality. That is a really intensive and expensive goal.”

In the face of such an “intensive and expensive goal,” it’s vital that school districts are able to fund every initiative on their plate. That’s why it’s important to ensure they receive each and every tax dollar to which they’re entitled — and why they need a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform in their arsenal. With CheckPoint, school districts can rest easy knowing their enrollment reporting is accurate and their funding is secure.

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