Kansas City Mayor Sly James delivered his eighth and final State of the City Address Tuesday, March 26 at Rockhurst University. He highlighted accomplishments of his tenure and addressed the issue of quality early childhood education in Kansas City with his proposed Pre-K Plan.
A native Kansas Citian and Rockhurst graduate, James was elected Mayor in 2011, beating then-incumbent Mayor Mark Funkhouser. James’ eight years as Mayor have focused on implementing his 4-E Agenda: Education, Employment, Efficiency, and Enforcement.
In an effort to grow a prosperous economy, James initiated LaunchKC, a series of initiatives by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, in partnership with local businesses, to develop tech and arts startups in downtown Kansas City. Launch KC was designed to provide policy and marketing guidance for sector-specific recruitment and expansion, support start-up businesses, create jobs, attract talent, unlock value, and engage investors.
In 2011, he also created the Mayor’s Task Force for the Arts of Kansas City, Missouri, to address the need for a better approach to the development and marketing of the City’s art and cultural assets, capitalize on major investments in the arts, and to examine the public’s role in arts and culture.
Mayor James also implemented KCStat in 2011, a data-driven, public-facing initiative focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of city services. KCStat focuses on the areas of most concern to residents based on complaints to 311, including street maintenance, water line maintenance, billing, customer service, code enforcement, and animal control. Monthly KCStat meetings monitor the city’s progress.
During the Mayor’s tenure, Kansas City was selected as one of the first cities in the nation to participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ ‘What Works Cities’, a $42-million initiative to help communities nationwide enhance the use of data and evidence to improve the lives of residents.
James also saw the birth of the Kansas City Streetcar, the 2-miles of track running through the heart of downtown connecting River Market to Union Station.
In 2014, Mayor James unveiled his Women’s Empowerment (WE) initiative to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions in the business community. WE is a collaboration between the Mayor’s Office, Central Exchange, Women’s Foundation, and UMKC’s Women’s Center to ensure the City of Kansas City, Missouri is an inclusive, diverse organization and supports women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.
In 2011, Mayor James began Turn the Page KC (TTPKC), a city-wide mobilization to increase reading proficiency among third graders in Kansas City.
At inception, 33 percent of third graders were reading at grade level. Mayor James announced during his speech that since then, Turn the Page KC has closed a third of the gap in the last eight years. At the end of 2017, third grade reading proficiency increased to 55 percent. The state average; however, is 62 percent.
“Until a child is in third grade, they are learning to read,” said James. “From third grade on, they are reading to learn. We still have plenty to go, but we are working on it.”
Mayor James also discussed the achievement gap in Kansas City, notating the stark differences among children in low-income households and their higher-earning peers.
“By the age of three, a child raised in poverty has heard 30 million fewer words than a middle-class child,” James claimed. “Those kids are already behind in the achievement gap when they step foot into kindergarten. One of the things we know is that when you get into kindergarten at the age of five, your brain is already 90 percent formed. That time frame between zero and five years is where the biggest brain explosion occurs.”
James said high quality Pre-K is the best way to reduce that gap and to prepare children to be kindergarten-ready.
He said his Pre-K Plan addresses this issue, proposing a three-eighths cent sales tax on purchases made within the Kansas City limits. This will generate approximately $30 million annually, to be used to help all families afford high-quality Pre-K instruction as well as to invest in Pre-K programs to ensure that as many as possible are high quality.
James is serving his second term as Mayor of Kansas City, and is not eligible for re-election. The nonpartisan primaries were held Tuesday, April 2nd with eleven candidates running for Mayor of Kansas City in 2019.