Improving schools/Pre-K for All in Kansas City, Missouri

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An initiative will appear on the April 2, 2019, ballot in Kansas City, Missouri, for a 3/8 cent sales tax to fund universal preschool, known locally as “Pre-K for All”. There is a broad but not universal agreement among leaders in Kansas City, Missouri, that something like this is needed. However, most local leaders opposed this particular plan, pledging to try to help develop and pass an improvement in the next year or two.

After a summary, the discussion on this initiative is divided into what, why, an obstacle, a question, and a caution. This is further followed by a discussion of other resources on this issue.


The following summary is offered for registered voters in Kansas City, Missouri trying to decide how to vote on this issue: If you believe that this initiative is likely to be better than anything else that's likely to pass in the next few years, you probably will want to vote for this. Reasons for opposing this include the following:

  • You think city funds should not be used for this kind of thing.
  • You vehemently oppose government funds going to preschool programs affiliated with religious organization(s).
  • You think that too much of the funds of this program would be consumed in legal fees to make it worthwhile.
  • You think that the support for doing something in this area has been increasing over the past couple of years, and something better will likely be developed and approved in the next few years.


The proposed 3/8 cent sales tax is officially an economic development effort. As such, Mayor Sly James noted that, "Pursuant to the statute, 20 percent of the money that we raise has to be used for bricks and mortar."[1] The plan provides means-tested subsidies to help low-income parents or guardians pay for pre-kindergarten for 4-year old children, whether they attend a pre-k program run by a public, private or parochial school or a church offering a pre-k program.[2] The program will be managed by a special "TIF Board" with three members appointed by the (new) mayor, one by the Jackson County[3]and one school rep.[4][citation needed] Operating funds disbursed by this TIF Board will be managed by Mid-America Regional Council,[citation needed][5] which currently manages Head Start funds in the area.


On 2018-11-14 Mayor James said that, "At a time when 50% of children enter the public schools in Kansas City behind both academically and emotionally, high-quality pre-K is a proven way to ensure that students start school ready to learn. We know that 40% of zip codes throughout the city – North, South, East, West – have a shortage of affordable, high-quality pre-K opportunities."

For these and perhaps other reasons, many community leaders in the Kansas City, Missouri, area support universal preschool. The 1962-67 Perry Preschool project and more recent similar efforts included control groups that established the value of early childhood education, especially for young children in disadvantaged environments.

Beyond that, 68 percent of the nation’s prison population are high school dropouts.[6] A quality preschool program has been shown to substantially reduce arrests, criminal convictions and incarcerations.

Moreover, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and co-workers have established a very strong relationship between the scores of primary and secondary education students on internationally standardized tests of student achievement and the rate of economic growth of states in the US and countries around the world. The Knowledge Capital of Nations by Hanushek and Woessmann includes a plot showing a near straight line relationship for different groupings of countries between test scores and and economic growth between 1960 and 2000 after adjusting both for the average annual income income in 1960 (Gross Domestic Product per capita, adjusted for inflation), with Sub-Saharan Africa with the worst test scores and slowest growth and Asia with the highest scores and fastest growth.[7] Hanushek notes that this means that any reasonable investment in improving how much children actually learn on average will translate into such improvements in productivity that the entire education system would become free after a delay of thirty years or so. That's because better educated adults are better able to develop and adopt new ways of doing more with less, and doing so faster than their less well educated peers.


Article IX, section 8 of the Constitution of the State of Missouri says that neither the general assembly nor any local government "shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose, or to help to support or sustain any ... school ... controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination".

If this initiative passes, opponents have promised to sue.[8] There seem to be three possible outcomes of such a suit: The courts could decide to do nothing, thereby allowing the initiative to be implemented as planned. The courts could prohibit the use of any such money from going to schools with any religious affiliation but allow the plan to proceed as otherwise planned. Or the courts could prevent the implementation of the entire program. Whatever the outcome, such legal proceedings could consume substantial public funds in legal fees.


A critical question is how the outcomes of this program will be measured. Paula Neth, Vice President of Programs of the Family Conservancy, said that over the past four or five years, they've developed what they call "the early learning program profile." They plan to use this in quantitative evaluations of classrooms and teacher-child interactions.[9]

However, it's not clear if this evaluation component will be funded at a level that supports serious evaluation. Leaders who support preschool but oppose this initiative have mentioned this as one concern.[10]


Some of the statements made about this cannot possibly be true. For example, as mentioned above, Mayor James said that, 20 percent of the money raised would be used for infrastructure, implying that 80 percent would go to educate children.[1] This would appear to conflict with the claim by T.J. Berry, Executive Director of the Clay County Economic Development Commission, that "only 30 cents on the dollar [would] actually [be] spent on educating children."[10]

If 70 percent of the funds raised during the first three years of this ten-year program were spent on infrastructure and none of the money raised later were spent on infrastructure, then over the full 10 years, roughly 21 percent (= 0.7 times 0.3) of the money during that 10-year period would go for infrastructure. This could explain the discrepancy between the comments by these two men, ignoring the fact that Berry didn't restrict his comment to the first three years.

Three concerns of opponentsEdit

Opponents of this initiative have three primary concerns:

  1. The proposed governance structure fails to provide adequate authority to public school systems, who are nominally responsible for education. Instead, oversight will be managed by an appointed board, on which all the schools, public, private and parochial, would share one seat.[11]
  2. The proposed plan would violate Article 9, section 8 of the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits any state or local government entity from providing public funds "in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose," including schools.
  3. The revenue is generated with a regressive sales tax that will disproportionately impact the families that can least afford it.


“” An outline of the history of this issue at "" begins with 2011. Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools (KCPS) Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell said that KCPS started studying this issue in 2013 and had a detailed proposal in 2016.[12] However, they have so far been unable to find a way to pay for this through their traditional sources, property taxes and state funds.

Mayor James said that 12 or 13 other cities in the US are doing what he proposes: When the school boards proved unable to get the required funds from property tax or from their state legislature, the local mayors raised the sales tax to fund it.[13]

Videos with transcripts of events by supporters and opponentsEdit

Videos with transcripts of events supported by supporters and opponents can be found as follows:

Current bill in the Missouri House of RepresentativesEdit

Judy Morgan, who represents downtown Kansas City, Missouri, in the Missouri House of Representatives, has introduced HB 724, which “Enacts the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement and establishes a dedicated fund for early childhood education”. However, as of 2019-03-07, this bill has no co-sponsors and is “ currently not on a House calendar”.

Positions of mayoral candidatesEdit

This was discussed in a mayoral candidate forum 2019-03-09 involving 10 of the 11 candidates for Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, competing on the same April 2 ballot that will carry this initiative.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 following [00:29:28] in the companion video to Improving Schools/Mayor James explains the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri.
  2. For more information on the Mayor's plan, go to “”, click “QUESTIONS”, then scroll down to see “TOWN HALL SCHEDULE”.
  3. How will this person be selected, by whom at the County?
  4. How will this person be selected?
  5. 5.0 5.1 Per Jolie Justus near [01:26:46] in Kansas City Mayoral Forum March 9, 2019, 9 March 2019, Wikidata Q62026016.
  6. Harlow, Caroline W. (2003). "Education and Correctional Populations." U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  7. Eric Hanushek; Ludger Woessmann (2015), The knowledge capital of nations: Education and the economics of growth, The MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-02917-9, OL 28159705M, Wikidata Q56849351, Figure 1.1 and Table 1.A1, pp. 4 and 8.
  8. Dan Clemens, Superintendent, North Kansas City, Missouri, Schools at [00:20:11] in the video and transcript at Improving Schools/Opposition to the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri.
  9. Comments starting at [00:46:31] in a video of Improving Schools/Mayor James explains the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri.
  10. 10.0 10.1 T.J. Berry, Executive Director of the Clay County Economic Development Commission, said this "is an experiment where 13 years will pass and 390 million dollars will be spent before the community can measure that outcome (following [00:14:07] in Improving Schools/Opposition to the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri).
  11. Comment by Susan Stocking at [00:08:03] in Improving Schools/Opposition to the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri
  12. per remarks by Mark Bedell in Improving Schools/Opposition to the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri
  13. Sly James starting at [00:37:21] in Improving Schools/Mayor James explains the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri
  14. Comments starting at approximately 01:26:46 in Kansas City Mayoral Forum March 9, 2019, 9 March 2019, Wikidata Q62026016