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Voters in Seven States Say YES to Fund Children’s Programs

Ballot initiatives don’t receive much reporting outside of the state where they happen. Yet these November 3rd asks of voters in seven states (six at the local level) are worthy of understanding and celebrating.

In Multnomah County, Oregon; Colorado; San Antonio, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; San Joaquin County, California; Leon and Escambia counties in Florida; and Cincinnati, Ohio, voters approved new or increased spending on children’s early care and learning programs. Various financing mechanisms will be used – from income tax increases on high-wage earners, to a tax on nicotine products and marijuana sales, to other increases in sales tax and property tax. Each mechanism to raise revenue has strengths and weaknesses – some progressive and some regressive – what’s most important is that a transformation is under way. The Children’s Funding Project estimates revenue for young children generated from these initiatives total $500 million/year.

The ballot initiatives all won by strong margins. They will fund preschool, increasing wages for early childhood teachers, infant care, literacy and after school programs, and cradle to career services. Several aspire to universal preschool, and two were renewals of previously passed measures.

We have counted at least 50 local ballot initiatives to fund children’s programs dating back to the 1980’s that have passed and less than a dozen that have failed. We’ve mapped many of them here.

Read the roundup about the recent victories below. Here’s a map from the Children’s Funding project to share.

• Multnomah County, Oregon: Voters approved an income tax increase on high earners to fund universal, tuition-free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-old children by 2030. The tax will generate an estimated $133 million next year (and $202 million annually by 2026). Funds will add 7,000 new slots by fall 2026 with fair wages for providers and high-quality, culturally responsive opportunities that meet children’s needs. The New York Times reported the wages will be equal to those of kindergarten teachers.

• Colorado: Voters approved a tax on nicotine products that will raise $87 million in 2021 (projected to increase to $276 million by 2028). The revenue will fund rural schools, state health and housing programs, the education budget for the first two years, and universal preschool for potentially more than 75% of the state’s 4-year-olds starting in 2023.

• San Antonio, Texas – Renewal: A measure originally passed in 2012 was renewed last week. It will keep a 1/8 cent local sales tax in place to support the city’s pre-K program, Pre-K 4 SA. The high-quality program serves 2,000 4-year-olds at no cost to parents each year. You can read our original case study here.

• St. Louis, Missouri: Voters passed a measure to implement a six-cent property tax that will raise $2.3 million a year for early childhood services for infants to 5-year-olds. Learn more about the initiative here.

• San Joaquin County, California: Voters passed Measure X, a county-wide tax on marijuana sales. Fifty percent of that revenue will fund preschool, home visiting, childhood literacy programs, after-school programs, and drug prevention and intervention programs.

• Cincinnati, Ohio – Renewal: Voters renewed a 73-cent property tax, originally passed in 2016, to raise $48 million over five years for the public school system. Thirty percent of the revenue will fund the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which has served 5,000 3-and 4-year-olds in the last four years. You can read our original case study here.

• Escambia and Leon counties, Florida: These counties joined 10 others in Florida that have dedicated property tax revenue for Children’s Services Councils to fund cradle-to-career services.

For several years, we have seen national and statewide polls showing strong support and building momentum for expanding early learning programs for young children. In North Carolina, in 2014, 2016 and 2018, NCECF and the bipartisan polling team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research, found that support for early childhood investments has grown significantly in our state.

• In 2018, the percentage of North Carolina voters saying we should do more for young children’s education increased by 15 points since 2014 to 80 percent, including a 15-point increase among Republicans, a four-point increased among Democrats and a 27 percent increase among Independents.

• Eighty percent of North Carolina voters said early education should be a higher priority than reducing business taxes in the state. Majorities across all parties agree, including 60 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Independents, and 94 percent of Democrats.

The NCECF website Local Funding for Early Learning: A Community Toolkit details funding mechanisms available to local communities in North Carolina, case studies from our state (Mecklenburg and Wakecounties) and across the country as well as tools to prepare for a funding initiative. Is your community ready? 

For North Carolina communities interested in learning more about local financing, please contact Lisa Finaldi at lfinaldi@buildthefoundation.org.

Thanks to the Children’s Funding project for cataloguing the proposals last month to make it easy for the rest of us to keep track! And a special thank you to Alexandra Sirota at the NC Budget and Tax Center for keeping this issue front and center as communities consider these opportunities for the future.

Voters Approve New Escambia Children’s Children’s Trust And Small Property Tax Increase To Fund It

ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FL, NOVEMBER 4, 2020 – Escambia County voters approved a new Children’s Services Council (CSC).

Complete, but unofficial, totals show 97,625 Escambia County residents (60.90%) voted in favor of creating the Escambia Children’s Trust, while 62,689 (39.10%) voted against

The Escambia Children’s Trust is the proposed name for the CSC in Escambia County. The sole purpose of a CSC is to invest in the well-being of children by maximizing resources and ensuring accountability. The trust will not deliver service. Instead, it will fund community providers who can demonstrate measurable desired outcomes through a competitive review and accountability process.

The Escambia Children’s Trust will receive a new 0.5 mill county property tax that will cost the average Escambia County homeowner $40 per year. Other property owners will pay an average of $67 per year. The additional half mill will not be collected until 2022.

Of the funds collected, 90% of funds will go into direct programing, 4% will be  paid to the Escambia County Tax Collector for collecting the funds, and 6% will be used by the trust for administrative costs. The trust will have an initial 10 year life before it must go back to the voters.

A 10-member board will govern the Escambia Children’s Trust. Five members will be appointed by the governor. The other five members will be the superintendent of schools, one school board member, the district administrator for the Department of Children and Families; one member of the Escambia County Commission and a  a judge assigned to juvenile cases. Read more.

Property Tax to Fund Early Childhood Services

ST. LOUIS, MO, NOVEMBER 3, 2020 – St. Louis Proposition R, a property tax to fund early childhood services measure, was on the ballot as a referral in St. Louis on November 3, 2020. It was approved.

A “yes” vote supports authorizing an additional property tax of $60 per $100,000 in assessed value to generate an estimated $2.3 million per year in revenue for childhood services for children five years of age or younger. The assessed value of property is a percentage of actual or market value.

A “no” vote opposes this measure to authorize an additional property tax of $60 per $100,000 in assessed value to fund early childhood services, thereby leaving the city’s existing property tax rate of $190 per $100,000 in assessed value in place.In Missouri, property is assessed at various percentages of market or actual value depending on the type of property:

  • Houses – 19% of actual value
  • Farm machines – 12% of actual value
  • Historic cars and planes – 5% of actual value
  • Crops – 0.5% of actual value
  • Other vehicles – 33.3% of actual value

This means that a home with the median actual value of $140,000 for St. Louis would be assessed at $26,600. This means the Proposition R tax would be $15.96 for this home. Read more.

PreK 4 SA, San Antonio’s Popular City-Run Pre-K Program, Wins Another 8 Years

SAN ANTONIO, TX, NOVEMBER 4, 2020 – San Antonio voters overwhelmingly elected to renew the city’s popular pre-k program, PreK 4 SA, drowning out any remaining questions about the program’s benefits.

The eight-year-old early childhood education initiative has so far served over 12,000 students in its four brick and mortar centers, with additional estimates near 200,000 served by professional development programs and grants to other pre-k providers.

Under the ballot measure Proposition A, voters opted to renew PreK 4 SA through the existing ⅛ cent sales tax, which generated $36.4 million in 2019. While skeptics have long questioned the per-student cost of the learning centers, at just over $11,000 per student, proponents point out that this is still lower than the national average, even if it is higher than local school districts.

Supporters also campaigned on a 2019 study showing that PreK 4 SA delivers a $3,790+ return on investment for each student enrolled. Read more.

Colorado Voters Approve Tax Increase, New Taxes on Tobacco and Nicotine with Prop. EE’s Passage

DENVER, CO, NOVEMBER 3, 2020 – Colorado voters approved sweeping new taxes on nicotine and tobacco products that are expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and significantly raise the price of cigarettes and other tobacco and vaping products.

The Associated Press called the race around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, with 69% of Coloradans voting in favor of Proposition EE’s passage, compared to 31% who voted against it.

The measure was referred to Colorado voters by state lawmakers as part of HB20-1427 as the state tries to address its high teen vaping rates and other tobacco and nicotine use.

Proposition EE’s approval will create a new tax for nicotine and vaping products and increase existing taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, which Legislative Council Staff estimated would raise around $250 million in revenue this fiscal year and next. Read more.

How an Oregon Measure for Universal Preschool Could Be a National Model

MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR, NOVEMBER 7, 2020 – On Election Day, Multnomah County, which includes Portland, Ore., passed one of the most progressive universal preschool policies in the nation.

The measure, to be paid for by a large tax on high earners, will provide free preschool for all children ages 3 and 4, in public schools and in existing and new private preschools and home-based child care centers. It will also significantly raise teachers’ wages so they are equivalent to those of kindergarten teachers.

It seeks to overcome the central problem in early childhood care and education: It is unaffordable for many families, yet teachers are underpaid. The solution, Multnomah County voters decided, is to finance preschool with public funding instead of private tuition, and to pay teachers much more.

It also seeks to overcome some of the pitfalls of universal preschool policies in places like New York and Washington, D.C. In doing so, early childhood researchers say the policy could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country.

“This was focused on access to quality preschool, so when children enter kindergarten, they are able to succeed,” said Jessica Vega Pederson, a county commissioner and a chairwoman, with Sahar Muranovic, of the measure’s steering committee. “And to do that, we needed to raise wages.” Read more.

Debate Continues Over Proposed Local Children’s Services Council during Virtual Town Hall

LEON COUNTY, FL, SEPTEMBER 13, 2020 – Backers and critics sparred over the merits of creating a new property tax to address children’s issues during a virtual town hall meeting.

Supporters say problems will persist without intervention and advocacy for the creation of a Children’s Services Council in Leon County.

The timing, opponents say, couldn’t be worse for a tax increase during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, they express deep concern over how new tax revenue will be effective, adding efforts to address children’s issues can be achieved with existing groups or revenue sources. In roughly two months, a referendum to create the CSC goes before voters in the general election. If approved, it would be the 10th in the state and would decide its focus areas based on broad-brush guidelines spelled out in statute. Read more.

Clackamas County Refers Measure to Help Abused Children

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, OR, AUGUST 19, 2020 – Clackamas County residents will be asked on the November ballot whether or not to approve a property tax levy to help fund services for abused children that help keep them safe and find them permanency in homes.

The county’s board of commissioners discussed and gave preliminary approval to the measure at their policy session earlier this week before a public hearing held Thursday, Aug. 13.

After listening to testimony from several leaders of local nonprofit organizations that work with foster youth and abused kids, the board unanimously approved referring the measure to the voters of Clackamas County. Read more.

Vote Yes on Prop R for Early Childhood Education

ST. LOUIS, MO, OCTOBER 2, 2020 – The first five years of a child’s life sets the stage for long-term social, cognitive, emotional, physical, and even economic wellbeing. Yet, despite the importance of this critical time of development, opportunities for early childhood enrichment has been overlooked and underfunded in St. Louis and Missouri. 

But, if St. Louis voters approve Proposition R on November 3, more taxpayer money will go toward early childhood education for children ages 5 and under. According to the Health Equity Works report, formerly known as For the Sake of All, lack of quality early childhood education is a leading indicator of health disparities between white and Black residents in St. Louis, where white children are 38% more likely than Black children to be enrolled in pre-kindergarten.

Needless to say, our region needs this investment – and that means we need to vote for it. Proposition R, placed on the ballot by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, increases the property tax rate by 6 cents – up to 25 cents per $100 of home value from the current rate of 19 cents – resulting in an estimated $2.3 million annual investment in early childhood education. Read more.

Board Votes to Refer Preschool for All Measure to November 2020 Ballot

PORTLAND, OR, AUGUST 7, 2020 – The Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted Thursday, Aug. 6 to refer the Preschool for All measure to Multnomah County voters in the November 2020 election.

As previously reported, preschool in Multnomah County is among the costliest in the country, while 60 percent of families continue to live at or below the Self Sufficiency Standard. Fifteen percent of Multnomah County families have access to publicly-funded preschool. The measure aims to expand preschool access while addressing systemic racism and supporting the early education workforce.

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who championed Preschool for All, said at the Board meeting that the timing could not be more urgent to get the measure on the ballot. The existing inequities in preschool access have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening disparities affecting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, she said. Read more.