The Cost of Universal Pre-K

The dog has done her homework and we’re in agreement that kids that are enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program have a pretty substantial leg up when it comes to continuing education. We get that. What we don’t get is why Mayor James is so adamantly pushing a regressive tax to pay for it, while at the same time giving away the educational farm in the form of TIF project after TIF project.

The Mayor’s tax basically amounts to double taxation for education in the city limits of Kansas City: double in the sense that you already pay for education on property taxes, but the Mayor wants an additional 3/8 cent sales tax on every purchase you make in Kansas City, big ticket items included. The two examples cited in last week’s Northeast News story by Managing Editor Paul Thompson tell the tale as far as who really pays for TIF projects in the end. Sadly, it’s schools and libraries, two institutions dedicated to learning and education.

The Dog will bring this hyper-local for our readers because we’re a staunch stay-in-school advocate. Kansas City Public Schools talking head Ray Weikal put the money quote out there for any and all to see when he stated the negative economic impact of development incentives to KCPS.

“Every year, $25-30-million in real property tax collections are diverted from Kansas City Public Schools because of economic incentives,” Weikal said. “One of the things we could do with that is provide universal Pre-K.”

You read that right folks: $25-$30-million. In the case of the Hickman Mills School District and the Cerner development, the numbers are just as sobering. The corporate behemoth petitioned the Jackson County Board of Equalization to have the valuation of their development reduced to the value of the bare dirt prior to the construction of their campus on the site of the old Bannister Mall. Cerner has successfully petitioned the county to reduce the valuation of their campus from $40 million down to a paltry $7 million. The Hickman Mills School District has now, no thanks to this TIF project, had to reduce the number of days in school for the district to 172 from 175 and eliminate nineteen teaching positions through attrition.

The Dog knows the city, and of course the Mayor will continue to stand on the $3.83 return for every dollar invested in TIF projects. That’s the kind of numbers you get when you hire the fox’s company to audit the chicken coop. The whole matter comes to a head in April of 2019 when Kansas City residents will be asked to vote on the issue. Of course this is all being pushed by a lame-duck Mayor who doesn’t have to live with the consequences. If this passes however, the citizens of Kansas City WILL have to live with yet another regressive tax that won’t go where it’s intended to go. Until the city stops giving away the farm to luxury apartment projects downtown, school districts and libraries – houses of learning for our youth – will continue to pay the price. And a heavy price it will be.

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