Improving Schools/Mayor James explains the 2019 “Pre-K for All” ballot initiative in Kansas City, Missouri
A presentation was made on 2019-02-05 by Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James on an initiative on the April 2 ballot for a 3/8 cent sales tax to fund a universal preschool program for Kansas City, called “Pre-K for All”. The Mayor's presentation was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Charlie Shields on behalf of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Some of the questions were answered by Paula Neth, Vice President of Programs of the Family Conservancy.
For more information on the Mayor's plan, go to “kcmayor.org/pre-k”, click “QUESTIONS”, then scroll down to see “TOWN HALL SCHEDULE”.
For a discussion of this and alternative views, see Improving schools/Pre-K for All in Kansas City, Missouri.
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Charlie Shields: [00:00:00] Thank you for being here on a cold and almost kind of icy night out there. And we appreciate it. My name is Charlie Shields. My day job is I'm President and CEO of Truman Medical Centers, Kansas City, a position I'm extremely proud of and the organization I'm extremely proud of. One of my volunteer activities is I am also President of the Missouri State Board of Education. So this is an important discussion that we're about to have tonight. Really what we're talking about is a proposal to fund early childhood education in our community and hopefully answer some questions. And we'll discuss that in just a second -- what that format for questions will be. But I want to introduce a couple of our experts.
Charlie Shields: [00:00:46] One of them is Paula Neth. And Paula is the Vice President of Programs with the Family Conservancy. But she is also part of a Child Care Resource and Referral both the state and national level, so she would be I guess our content expert on early childhood education.
Charlie Shields: [00:01:04] And then our other expert on early childhood education along with a few other things is our mayor Sly James, who is the 56th mayor of this great city. And I've enjoyed working with him on a number of different issues but not the least of which is education. And I think to show the mayor's commitment to education this community won him his very first initiatives which I think this community benefits greatly from is "Turn the Page", and we've seen a difference that it makes. I think everybody knows him. He is what I would describe as our "can do" mayor. He has moved our city forward on a number of initiatives not the least of which is a significant bond package for capital improvements in our community, the airport and just a number of issues. I think we're proud to say he's our mayor and the work that he's done on behalf of Kansas City.
Charlie Shields: [00:02:02] So the format for tonight is we're going to have a presentation. The mayor is going to discuss the ballot initiative and really the background behind that and what early childhood and moving that issue forward can mean to this community. And then we're going to answer questions. And we're going to distribute notecards, if they haven't already been distributed. And I'm going to ask you to write your questions down in the form of a notecard. And then we'll ask those of Mayor James and Ms. Neff. So with that I will turn it over to our mayor James.
Sly James: [00:02:38] Thanks Charlie. Well I want to first of all thank everybody for coming out tonight despite the fact that if you paid much attention to people in the weather they might tell you that if you walked outside you would instantly freeze and turn into a popsicle. I'm glad you avoided that and ignored it.
Sly James: [00:02:56] I'm really proud of the community efforts that have been years in the making that have resulted in this plan for high quality Pre-K for all of Kansas City's children.
Sly James: [00:03:11] I'm excited to talk to you about high quality Pre-K the need for high quality Pre-K. How it can transform our community and how it can absolutely make a difference in the life of a child, and how we can make that high quality Pre-K more accessible and more affordable for the families and the children of Kansas City by utilizing the plan that so many people have worked so hard to put together. For the past seven years I've really been honored to lead this city during a time when we have tackled a number of difficult problems together and face our challenges head on. We have learned that if we want to be the city that we can be, if we want to be the city that we want to be, that we really can't wait or rely on state or federal help. We have to do it ourselves.
Sly James: [00:04:02] And in spite of the progress and momentum that we've made, that we have, and that we're enjoying. For far too long we have been too late in fulfilling our obligations as adults and as a community to adequately prepare all of our children for the future. Not just the ones that can afford it. Not just the ones that live on certain sides of Troost. Not just the ones that live north or south or east or west but all of our children.
Sly James: [00:04:30] When people ask me these days what's the most impactful thing that we've accomplished, I never really hesitate to answer. It's quite easily the increase in third grade reading proficiency across every zip code in this city.
Sly James: [00:04:42] Back in 2011 I was educated by Ralph Smith of the Annie Casey Foundation about the critical importance of third grade reading and how it is absolutely important for a child's educational future that they'd be able to read proficiently in third grade. It affects their life. It affects their education. It affects their future. And at that point in 2011, the first year that I was in office, only about thirty three point eight percent of our kids on average in this city were reading proficiently at third grade. And yet no one seemed to be upset or outraged about that. If you had a car that started 33 percent of the time, you junk it. If you got paid 33 percent of your wages, you'd quit. But when only 33 percent of our kids were reading proficiently, there wasn't any visible outrage about that.
Sly James: [00:05:34] Third grade reading proficiency is a critical benchmark in a child's development. A child is learning to read up to third grade and reading to learn from that point on. So obviously if you haven't learned to read well, you're not going to learn well. And if you don't learn well, then your options become limited every single day from that point forward. Children who can't read proficiently by third grade are 75 percent more likely to never catch up and fail to graduate high school at all or at least on time. This is a point at which we start to see kids dramatically have their educational futures change at third grade. So if a child isn't reading professional at third grade it just gets harder and harder and harder to close that gap. And it gets harder with each year going forward.
Sly James: [00:06:21] So in 2011 we started "Turn the Page KC" as a collective impact organization a model to address that specific problem. And I'm proud to say by working together with a number of different groups around town. It was never about one group. It was never about one individual. It was never about ego.
Sly James: [00:06:39] One thing that you'll find about the things that we do as it relates to children is we focus on the kids. We're not involved in all the adult problems that seemed to get in the way of doing the right thing. We focus on the kids.
Sly James: [00:06:51] And by focusing on the kids and working with other people who focus on the kids and by sharing the work and the burden and the ideas that were necessary to succeed we're up to 55 percent efficiency. We're still short of the goal of 70 percent that we set. But we're making progress. We're moving forward. And that extra group of kids there between 33 percent and 55 percent are the kids that are going to have a better shot. More options in life. Things that they wouldn't have had otherwise.
Sly James: [00:07:21] And that's important because what we're talking about isn't a building. It's not a new streetcar. It's not a fancy anything. It's about people's lives and the lives of their children. Because as we continue to create inequitable situations, people who have poverty in their lives and limited options, they pass those limitations onto their kids as other burdens that their kids have to overcome. So we've made good progress. But we've got a lot of work to do. The truth is much of a child's success in third grade reading depends and starts with kindergarten. And kindergarten readiness is affected by things like the 30 million word gap that kids who are 3 years old living in poverty suffer from versus their child their counterparts in more middle class circumstances.
Sly James: [00:08:08] Thirty Million Words less by the age of three. Think about it.
Sly James: [00:08:13] I couldn't get my head around 30 million words, period. But you are hearing 30 million words less by the age of three. That has to have a profound impact on vocabulary. And it also has a profound impact on socialization. Because if you're hearing so many, so fewer words that means nobody's talking to you. Or if they're talking to you, they're talking to you in short sentences, like, "Shut up." "Sit down." "Go away."
Sly James: [00:08:40] So they're starting behind already. And if a child who's in that situation and has that kind of gap by the age of 3 then shows up for kindergarten with nothing being done between that time and the time that they show up on the doors of kindergarten, they've already started way behind. And one thing that we know is at least in education, when you start behind you never catch up. Geoffrey Canada from the Harlem Children's Zone was in Kansas City years ago. And I sat and talked with him and asked him about his thoughts on education particularly here in Kansas City and the fact that we had so many kids that were behind. And when he gave a speech he had a word math problem. You know those things that we all hated. If Johnny could hit a tennis ball 100 miles an hour and it bounced off a wall at an angle at three feet or whatever the heck it was the ones that I never could get. But he said if a train leaves Kansas City at 10:00 o'clock at 50 miles an hour headed for Denver and train B leaves Kansas City at 10:30 at 50 miles an hour headed for Denver, when does train B catch up with train A?
Sly James: [00:09:42] The answer is never, because you can't catch up if you're moving at the same speed. And what we're going to do and what we're going to talk about is changing the speed of this train of education in this city.
Sly James: [00:09:54] So let's talk about the issue: Pre-K in Kansas City. Too many -- some estimates are at least 50 percent -- of our children in our Kansas City kindergarten are both behind academically and emotionally. In other words they're not kindergarten ready.
Sly James: [00:10:15] A lot of people think that kindergarten ready means that you've got the latest box of crayons. You know the 84 pack with the sharpener on the side. You've got a nice coloring book, and you've got tennis shoes that you can Velcro, because you don't have to worry about tying them. And you can go and sit watch TV or whatever the heck it is that they think you do in kindergarten. Kindergartens have curriculums. And when you show up you need to be ready to learn. This can all be changed by increasing the access and the affordability of high quality kindergarten in this city. Right now there's about 6,800 four-year olds in Kansas City. Only about 35 percent of those four-year olds are enrolled in any sort of a high quality Pre-K program. That means about 2,300 children who are already a step ahead for a better future. But I again find myself a little outraged because that also means that there's 4,500 four-year olds out there who don't get to attend high quality Pre-K. Now nearly two thirds of our four-year olds don't receive high quality Pre-K education. And that's because of two primary reasons.
Sly James: [00:11:22] Number one is accessibility. And number two is affordability. The cost of high quality Pre-K puts Pre-K out of reach for many families. The estimated annual cost of a full day, year round high quality Pre-K is twelve thousand dollars a year. Now I know that that's changing because a woman in my office, who had her children in a high quality pre-K, still does, their high quality Pre-K went from 12 to 14 thousand a year. So if you're making the median household income in Kansas City of $47,489, and then you have to pay 12 or 14 thousand after tax dollars for Pre-K, you're not going to be able to do it. And because you're not able to do it, that means that your child will be out of the benefits of high quality Pre-K. That means that a family has to spend one fourth of their income to send the single child to a high quality Pre-K program.
Sly James: [00:12:24] On top of that, families with four-year olds don't have access to high quality Pre-K programs in their neighborhoods. Nearly 40 percent of the zip codes in Kansas City are what we call child care deserts. Here's a little film from NBC News where they talked about childcare deserts in an Indiana town.
[NBC News]: [00:12:46] McKinzie Miles had her second child over the summer and is back to work in Crawfordsville, Indiana, relieved her newborn has a spot at a relative's daycare.
McKinzie Miles: [00:12:55] I actually tried other avenues before I chose the daycare that we're in now and all of them were full.
[NBC News]: [00:13:02] It's a familiar complaint around this city of 16,000 and surrounding communities, especially for younger parents just starting out professionally.
[NBC News]: [00:13:10] There are just a dozen licensed child care providers in the entire county, and it's making hiring workers that much harder for employers.
[businessman]: [00:13:18] Lots of people have wanted to come here. But of course if they can't find child care in this community, we're not going to be able to get them to come to work at Wabash College.
[NBC News]: [00:13:28] Mayor Todd Barton has put the issue high on his agenda.
Mayor Barton: [00:13:31] Last two years we've really been struggling with this workforce issue and as we've struggled with that and try to identify root causes, this seemed to really come out on top as being a possible cause.
[NBC News]: [00:13:42] The mayor has pulled together school administrators and business leaders to find a solution to the problem, illustrated by sparsely attended job fairs. It's the exact opposite challenge Barton faced when first elected seven years ago from no jobs then to no people now.
Mayor Barton: [00:13:57] When the economy is rolling, it's hard to staff all those positions.
[NBC News]: [00:14:01] Do you consider this a crisis?
Mayor Barton: [00:14:03] It's not a crisis yet but it could become a crisis.
[NBC News]: [00:14:06] A crisis McKinzie Miles avoided for the time being.
McKinzie Miles: [00:14:09] It's a constant struggle. I doubt they will have a break until our kids can drive and take care of themselves every day.
[NBC News]: [00:14:15] Thanks to family ties. Ron Mott NBC News Crawfordsville Indiana. NBC News Fans thanks for checking.
Sly James: [00:14:23] So change childcare to Pre-K and you've got exactly the same situation here in Kansas City. And ultimately one of the things we are talking about is developing a workforce that can handle the changing economy and the technological changes that are moving so rapidly that you have to be a 10 year old in order to keep up and understand them.
Sly James: [00:14:44] Here in Kansas City what people don't realize is that we have preschool deserts that exist, and they're common throughout the city. In the Northland and in the central city and in the Southland we have Pre-K deserts. So the Pre-K deserts in North Kansas City you can see on the map up there. Those dots indicate where there is absolutely no or very very high ratio of kids to teachers and no quality Pre-K. In the central city, same thing. More dots. Bigger dots meaning bigger areas without quality Pre-K. And in the south part of Kansas City, the same thing. No area is immune. And despite the fact that some people would like to say that this is all about young black kids and brown kids south of the river, it ain't that at all. It's about every child in this city. And that's something that we need to keep in mind just about every child in this city regardless of where they live regardless of what zip code they're in. They all deserve the same chance to be able to succeed. We have a situation where federal and state funding is not going to solve the problem. That's exemplified by the fact that there is only one thousand kids in headstart in Kansas City but there's 2400 other kids that are eligible and are not able to get in.
Sly James: [00:16:02] So compared to other states to fund early childhood education, Missouri ranks 42 out of 43.
Sly James: [00:16:11] Not surprising. We are second to last in funding. And that's in terms of the number of four year olds served by state funded programs and the dollar amounts that go to those programs.
Sly James: [00:16:22] In fact the Kansas City public school is set to lose their state funded Pre-K programs in classrooms, and at a recent business meeting they said that they estimate that they're going to lose 220 Pre-K seats in the next two years due to expiring state and local grants.
Sly James: [00:16:42] So we could just cross our fingers and hope things get better. Maybe the State Government will wake up right in on a big horse and save us or the federal government will become enlightened and spend the money for Pre-K that they're thinking about been in on the wall. But I don't think that's likely to happen. And I don't think you do either. In ten years we could have made sure that nearly 45,000 children had gone through high quality Pre-K when we have this program passed and it's got a tenure sunset. 45,000 kids with a better shot than they've got now. Waiting 10 years means we have another 45,000 children and young adults who will have missed out on the benefits of high quality early education.
Sly James: [00:17:31] It's a disservice to the children. It's a disservice to their families.
Sly James: [00:17:35] It's a disservice to this city and to this state, because we know that high quality Pre-K is a transformative thing that has a transformative impact on both the children and on the community in which they live.
Sly James: [00:17:51] High quality Pre-K is important to Kansas City, but so what are the benefits of doing it? In a high quality Pre-K program children learn the fundamentals of conflict resolution. Wouldn't it be nice to have some conflict resolution that doesn't require a gun? And when we think about it if we're trying to do conflict resolution training now with teenagers that are already out there to have don't have those skills we can get to a few but we're not going to get to them all.
Sly James: [00:18:16] We train our kids at the earliest age. Not when it's too late. It provides good classroom habits. It shows kids how to learn and it teaches them how to love learning. San Antonio has gone through their first cohort of three-year olds in their program. They tested out 11 to 15 points higher than their colleagues that did not go to a quality Pre-K program.
Sly James: [00:18:42] Kids who go through quality Pre-K show up for school more frequently than kids who don't. And how does that matter. Because schools are funded based on average daily attendance. So the more kids that show up every day the more money a school district gets in order to educate those kids. Kids that to go through high quality Pre-K are more likely to read proficiently third grade, more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to college, more likely to make a lot more money than their non Pre-K counterparts, more likely to live longer, because of all the things that living in a better neighborhood with high quality food and with more money can do for you.
Sly James: [00:19:21] Just that simple.
Sly James: [00:19:24] Children who attend high quality Pre-K are 31 percent greater chance of graduating. They are less likely to be involved in group juvenile crime, and 80 percent more likely to attend college. And being less likely to be involved in juvenile crime means that they are less likely to wind up in that prison population that generally reads about a 4th grade reading level. They also have higher earnings throughout adulthood.
Sly James: [00:19:50] Multiple studies show that for every one dollar invested in early learning, a community saves at least 7 dollars in reduced future remedial and other education, criminal justice and welfare costs. The community benefits by developing a stronger more highly skilled workforce that will power the economy.
Sly James: [00:20:09] And just by virtue of attending a high quality Pre-K program young people have already started on the way to becoming the type citizens that we need in this city and that we need to maintain the momentum that we have and build on our economy.
Sly James: [00:20:22] That's why working with a broad coalition of people that includes parents. It includes providers. It includes educators. It includes school and civic leaders.
Sly James: [00:20:34] We are proposing an initiative that will ensure that every four-year old in Kansas City has access to a high quality Pre-K program. We'll do this by having a 3/8 cent sales tax on purchases made within the city for 10 years. That will generate approximately 30 million dollars a year. And this revenue will be used to help families afford high quality Pre-K instruction as well as to invest in the Pre-K programs themselves to ensure that they are high quality.
Sly James: [00:21:04] One thing about it: This whole program works in phases. The first phase of 3 years, we have to build capacity. We have to have seats to put kids in. So that first three years is going to be about finding them building up more high quality sites and seats while we are getting more and more kids into the system. In the next period of time, it's all about more and more tuition discounts and advertising and making sure that we get kids into the system until we reach hopefully a mark of 70 or 80 percent of all the kids in high quality Pre-K. This funding will go towards creating affordable high quality seats throughout Kansas City. And also it will provide tuition discounts for families based on financial need. The tuition discounts will be based on financial need and the quality of the Pre-K that the families decide to send their kids to. The money will go directly to the provider not to the individual family.
Sly James: [00:22:01] This is a quality investment in the Kansas City Pre-K providers, whether they are public schools, charter schools, religious-based organizations, commercial-based organizations, or community-based organizations out in the community, or Miss Sally's day care and Pre-K at thirty ninth and whatever.
Sly James: [00:22:23] If she wants to improve her quality and get quality ratings up, she will be eligible for those types of funds and that type of help as well. It also add more quality classrooms for all providers. You'll see here a chart that shows the level of tuition discounts and you'll see that the people who are at the low end of the household income ladder are the ones who are benefited the most. Going up and up to whatever the amount is. But it's all based on the number of people in your household and your earnings. And then if you qualify for a discount, the discount based on that plus the quality of the Pre-K to which you send your child. So this is an example of the kinds of discounts a parent would receive if they sent their child to a high quality provider. The scales intended to serve those in need the most and making a high quality option the most affordable and the most desirable option. So let me put it another way for a family with an income of thirty five thousand dollars, a 3/8 cent sales tax would mean that they would spend approximately 58 dollars and 50 cents a year more than they're currently spending. That in turn might qualify them for a tuition discount of twelve thousand dollars.
Sly James: [00:23:40] Seems like a pretty even trade. So we owe it to our kids, and we owe it to their kids, to do what we can while we have the opportunity. There's really no way to tell when we're going to have this shot again.
Sly James: [00:23:56] For thousands of children who could have had the benefit of this initiative, this is truly the fierce urgency of now. And we can choose to improve the outcomes for our children for which they will in turn strengthen this city.
Sly James: [00:24:14] I know that we have the ability to do this because we've done some pretty difficult stuff in this city already. Time and time again civic and community leaders have stepped up along with parents and seniors and entrepreneurs and students and neighbors and they've all come together to do the things that are necessary to move this city forward. And frankly it is time now for us to move our children forward by making sure that we are providing them with every opportunity to receive the best start in their life that we can give them. We're happy to take your questions but I want us to all remember one thing: Whenever we talk about the chronic ills of our society -- poverty, crime, hopelessness -- almost everybody to a person will say that education is one of the keys to changing those situations around. We can't continue to educate our children without going back to the basics and getting them at the earliest opportunity. We're apparently not nearly as enlightened as a state like California where they have a zero to five program and they start talking to their parents at the age of 0.
Sly James: [00:25:21] We're not catching them until they reach four, when 85 to 90 percent of their brain is already developed.
Sly James: [00:25:27] We have to change, and this is the time to do it.
Sly James: [00:25:31] We'll take your questions.
Charlie Shields: [00:25:33] OK. Thanks Mayor. So Jessica, do you have questions, or are you gathering questions?
Charlie Shields: [00:25:37] Now we're going to see if I can actually decipher handwriting.
Charlie Shields: [00:26:07] You'll love this one mayor. So for those of us who agree with the Pre-K program, i.e., those who will vote "yes," what would you like us to do between now and the election day?
Sly James: [00:26:22] We need ambassadors. We need people to talk. We need people to understand that it is up to us to talk to our neighbors, our friends, and anybody we can talk to, our co-workers, about this issue. In fact what we really can do as a community is to be engaged in education issues immediately. Nobody was upset, most people didn't even know about the third grade reading issue until we started talking. Now we're talking about that and this. So first things read the plan. If you haven't read the implementation plan it's not a hard read, but it will certainly inform you as to exactly what we're talking about. It's on our Web site kcmayor.org/pre-k. Can't miss it. Talk to your family and friends. Call us if you have questions. But be advocates for this program. Be ambassadors. That's the best thing in the world you could do. Now if you happen to be one of those people that does not need a tuition discount which means you may have a little extra money around, we could sure use some cash. The campaign doesn't run on itself. We have to get out and do this campaign. So we can always use help raising funds for this campaign.
Charlie Shields: [00:27:36] So I'm going to insert a question here and I'm going ask Paula: Can you talk a little bit about this idea of differentiating for quality and why that's important? Because I know that's kind of the world you come from so.
Paula Neth: [00:27:48] So I think that when we think about quality, we know that there has not been a lot of resources invested in quality in this community. So we really wanted to create a system where we could start where providers are currently on their quality journey and then give them steps to improving quality. And so we have created a quality framework, which we hope will support providers and also help us understand. We'll be doing assessments in classrooms and then providing resources to help them in investing in their quality improvement plans, so that they can make those improvements.
Charlie Shields: [00:28:29] So I'm going to paraphrase a little bit but you know you talked about the the Pre-K desert in certain zip codes and I guess the one question would be why does that exist and then how does the plan specifically address that.
Sly James: [00:28:46] Well, I can't tell you why it exists, except for the fact that first of all the state of Missouri has no quality matrix.
Sly James: [00:28:55] So all you have to do to be a childcare or Pre-K is get a license, have a place to put kids, and be in good standing or be license exempt. So there's been no incentive to make equality.
Sly James: [00:29:10] Number two, quality cost. It costs.
Sly James: [00:29:14] You need teachers who have better educations. You need constant training. You need facilities. You need more people to have lower kid to teacher or caregiver ratios in order to give them better care, more individualized care.
Sly James: [00:29:28] So quality costs why is it important that we address the issue of quality, and what do we plan to do about it? First how we will address it is the tax that we are raising is an economic development tax. Pursuant to the statute, 20 percent of the money that we raise has to be used for bricks and mortar. So we can help build or expand existing Pre-K centers that want to be on the quality journey. All they have to say is prove to us that they're engaged, that they meet certain requirements. We will help them expand their operation, so that they can have more seats. And then by doing that what we do is we bring that quality or make that better and more available to people in their neighborhoods which cuts down on the need for transportation, et cetera, so that single mom doesn't have to get the two kids on a bus to drive half halfway across town to deliver their children to a high quality Pre-K and they can do it closer to home. Or even what happens most likely as single mom finds somebody on the block or in the neighborhood who's taking care of a bunch of kids and does it for something they can afford. And that's where the kids go. So quality is absolutely vital to making sure that first of all we can judge apples to apples comparisons in terms of outcomes. And secondly so that we can ensure that we're doing the best for the kids. Just regular Pre-K with no quality controls isn't going to solve the problem. You get a problem there later on. The best way to address this issue is to make sure that everybody's working in a quality matrix and held to the same standards and then the kids are the beneficiary of the best possible results.
Charlie Shields: [00:31:13] So related to this quality issue (and I have this card here that has many questions on but they're all really good questions), so when you talk about quality and when you know specifically what kind of standards do you begin to look at and you know what defines quality Pre-K?
Paula Neth: [00:31:34] So one of the most important pieces of quality is looking at those teacher child interactions and what's actually happening in that classroom. So ensuring that there is a lot of focus on social emotional support and development of children in that classroom. We look at how is that classroom organized and what is the structure of the day that they have in that classroom. And we also want to look at how is that teacher really engauging the children in their learning and providing those experiences that will help that child what I call "scaffold" on what they know and what their interests are. And so we're using a tool that's called the "class", which is the classroom assessment and scoring system. And it's a highly research-based tool that really provides us evidence that those things are happening in the classroom. We also want to ensure that there is what we call structural quality pieces in place and those pieces look at the program administration, the fiscal management, how they're supporting their teaching staff, how they're engaging families. And so we will also be looking at those pieces that we call best practices in that program. All of those things tied together will give us a matrix that helps us understand where that program is on a continuum of entry to emerging to mastering to to advancing that quality in that program.
Charlie Shields: [00:33:08] So in this question, which I think is really important, when you talk about these quality Pre-K a lot of it hinges on the actual teachers and providers in early childhood. And this notion that we already face a shortage I mean this is a tough field to go into because it's certainly not a high reward field. How do you begin to change that and how does the plan attract more quality educators into this area?
Paula Neth: [00:33:42] Right. I think one of the first things that we're going to be looking at is wages. And I think that we really want to make sure that teachers are compensated a livable wage. And so looking at whether that be the fifteen dollars an hour but also making sure that we're providing support to those teachers around getting the level of education and professional development they need in there to be successful in that classroom.
Sly James: [00:34:10] There's also I. I've seen examples of personally standing in a Head Start center, and one of the providers or workers was there, and they were quitting, because they were making little to no money, and they were certified, they've gone through all of that. But when you're making 8, 9 bucks an hour, and somebody comes and offers you 11, you're out the door. So by higher wages you can keep people who've already started on the journey but they couldn't make a living that way. So there's people out there that want to do this job, but they can't afford to do this job.
Sly James: [00:34:49] Again part of the funds that we will be using some will be for bricks and mortar. Others will be for training and assistance. If the child care providers have access to a tuition discount for more money than they're currently getting by rates moving up the quality scale they will have more money to do the things that are necessary to help train their teachers, which we will also help with, but also to pay their teachers better. And that's absolutely important. One thing that we all know, and we've seen it here in our own city, when leadership changes, and people are changing constantly, you get uneven quality outcomes. When you have a good stable organization where people are happy, they're well-paid and they stay in place, then you get a good outcome.
Sly James: [00:35:36] So we know that when superintendents are rotating every three years there's upheaval and we keep going back and forth.
Sly James: [00:35:43] But if you have a child care center or a Pre-K center, where there's consistent administration, teachers are there for years, because they are being paid well, then you're going to have a good quality program that's going to have successful outcomes.
Charlie Shields: [00:35:58] In related to that, and I think you cover this, but if you want to add anything: So the question is how will you improve program quality: Is that focus more on new or existing providers, or both I guess would be?
Sly James: [00:36:12] Well the program isn't open to new providers. In order for you to be eligible for this program, you have to be an existing provider. And the reason we did that is very simple. The first thing that would happen if you said we'll take all comers is all of a sudden you've got 15 new people that are providing Pre-K. They may have never done it again, but if they can get some money out of the out of the tax, then they might be more inclined to do it. So we're looking at existing providers who want to engage in the program and agree to the quality standards that we have in place and agree to cooperate with the program. And then they help us by doing that, and we help them by assisting them in reaching the marks that they set.
Charlie Shields: [00:36:52] So let me ask a question. I hear it all the time out there. So lots of different mechanisms to raise revenue: How do you settle in on a sales tax as the tool?
Sly James: [00:37:06] Because the revenue options that they have tried to use before it simply didn't work.
Sly James: [00:37:12] This isn't a new deal. About six years ago, KCPS [Kansas City Public Schools] commissioned a taskforce to look at Pre-K. And they sat around for a long time.
Sly James: [00:37:21] They looked at programs. They tried to put together a program. And every time they got to the funding piece, they got stumped. They ultimately decided that they would try a property tax levy. And this is just for KCPS, not for the entire city. They would try a property tax levy increase. But in order to do that you have to go to Jefferson City to have legislation change because you can't necessarily earmark the incremental property tax increase for one specific subject throughout the legislation. But in order to do that that the charter schools had to be on board. Initially the charter school said yeah we think so. And then they said, "Nah, we don't want to do that. We have other needs." So without the charter schools being on board the legislature wouldn't change the law. They tried that twice and then because nothing happened there, nothing happened. Nothing was moving until this other group of people came along and started working about a year and a quarter ago on this plan to get this done. But during that entire time nobody else came up with another funding idea. Because there isn't one. There's about 12 or 13 other cities in this country that do exactly what we're doing and they're doing it because that's the only way to get it done. It's not coming from the state. It's not coming from the property taxes. It's coming from sales tax. And frankly most of those initiatives are being led by mayors in their cities, because that's where the push is. It's not being led by the school districts. It is being led by the political leadership, because they're the only ones who can push across a sales tax.
Charlie Shields: [00:38:57] So I think this one you can both talk to -- and you did a little bit in your presentation but I want to hear Paula's take -- is the evidence that if you have quality Pre-K that it leads to higher performance in K12? So what is the evidence? I mean so there you go. But you will say OK you know we all think it makes a big difference if you have a quality Pre-K that kids ultimately succeed at higher levels in K through 12? But is there evidence that actually shows that?
Paula Neth: [00:39:32] I think there's a lot of research out there. There's a ton of research out there and I think we cite some of it in the plan as references. And I think there's some great examples of some pretty long term studies that have shown that every dollar that you invest in early childhood you have that seven dollar or even higher return and -- are you looking some up real quick? I'm just trying to think of a few. Anyone in the audience that has?
Sly James: [00:40:19] North Carolina shows that there's no fadeout.
Charlie Shields: [00:40:25] So this is a very specific this is from a teacher. So I am a kindergarten teacher at a charter school that serves a population made up almost entirely of English Language Learner students. Does this plan include any emphasis for funding on both the recruitment of qualified ELL teachers in Pre-K or the education of Pre-K teachers and staff in research based ELL practices.
Sly James: [00:40:58] Yes.
Charlie Shields: [00:41:03] OK I think this one's a relatively simple one but I'll ask anyway if I have more than one child in Pre-K, will they both receive the discount.
Sly James: [00:41:11] You'd have to have twins -- no literally -- twins or triplets. Because this Pre-K program is designed for children the year before they hit kindergarten. So Pre-K is for basically four-year olds are five-year olds before kindergarten. I think Denver might be at the very early stages. I know they mentioned it. I don't know how far they are. But there are some places that are at the very early stages of looking at three-year old Pre-K but that's a different animal, and we're not there yet. We don't have four-year olds, so, you know, one step at a time.
Sly James: [00:41:52] But, yeah, you can get the same discount for both children if you apply and have the same income for both children, and you send them to the same high quality Pre-K. So if you got two kids that are twins, Sally and Sam, and you are at the lowest income level or one of the low income levels, and you are sending them to a high quality Pre-K, you get the same discount for both kids. Now that's twelve thousand, ten thousand, eight thousand, whatever.
Charlie Shields: [00:42:29] So question Does the success of the high quality standards take into account cultural and racial variations and if so how?
Sly James: [00:42:41] Well I'm not sure if I understand the question but let's let me try to rephrase it a little.
Sly James: [00:42:46] One of the cornerstones of our program is equity. And we are deliberately, deliberately focusing on making sure that we do those things that take into account the equity issues that affect our children. For example one thing that we aren't going to be seeing our kids getting booted out of Pre-K and sent home at a disproportionate rate and that rate always seems to be much more out of kilter for black and brown kids than it does for others. So no, we're not going to be having that stuff. We are going to be addressing equity on every step of the way. The idea here is to -- you know I think maybe add a definition of a term. You know we always talk about equality equality and equity are not the same thing. Equality means we're all sitting in the same chair. We all get the same chair to sit in. But if you put up a wall that say four feet tall only those who are taller than that wall are going to be able to see over it and the rest of us are stuck behind the wall and we can't see over it. Equity means that we come around and for all those who are not able to see over the wall we put something under the chair so that they too are able to see over the wall. We are going to be addressing and doing everything that we can to make sure that every one of these children regardless of race, zip code, nationality, whether they are English Language Learners or not, are able to see over the wall. So yes: We are going to take into account cultural, socioeconomic, geographic, racial, temperamental, ability or disability. All of those things will be accounted for in the process.
Charlie Shields: [00:44:31] So question since this program is aimed at four-year olds, are programs with mixed age Pre-K rooms eligible, or only programs with designated four year old rooms?
Sly James: [00:44:44] I'm sorry. Say that again.
Charlie Shields: [00:44:45] So the idea is so in a Pre-K for you if you have a classroom of just four-year olds that only eligible or if you have classrooms of Mix's say three- and four-year olds.
Paula Neth: [00:44:58] I so my understanding is going to be for a mixed age groups as well as classrooms that just have four-year olds. Because we know a lot of times in our child care programs, our community-based child care programs, it's economically feasible for them to have those mixed age groups instead of having four-year old classroom or three-year old classroom and a five-year old classroom. So it's a mixed age groups.
Sly, Paula and Charlie: [00:45:22] But only four-year olds will be eligible for the tuition discounts regardless of whether they are mixed -age classroom or not.
Paula Neth: [00:45:32] And that also is an important point, because we are also going to be including family childcare providers. And in someone's home they typically always have mixed age children in their care.
Sly James: [00:45:44] The idea isn't to find ways to limit access. The idea is to find ways to increase access. So what will what we just said is absolutely critical. We're not going to find ways to exclude eligible providers and eligible classrooms from this program. We want more not fewer.
Charlie Shields: [00:46:03] So this has been asked a little bit, but all that you touch base on it a little more. And then I'll editorialize here in a second.
Charlie Shields: [00:46:10] Missouri doesn't have a quality improvement rating system. Many of you know I used to be a state senator. I tried. I really tried on this one. I didn't get there. So what kind of system will we use to evaluate quality? I mean a QRS or something similar and maybe some examples of ones that really really worked well.
Paula Neth: [00:46:31] So as a community we've already started working on a quality framework probably four or five years ago, because we knew that we couldn't wait for the state to come up with the quality rating and improvement system. So we've created what we're calling the early learning program profile. And I described a little bit earlier that that's going to be using the classroom assessment and scoring system so that we really are going to be evaluating those classroom and teacher-child interactions. And then we'll be looking at seven structural quality components where providers will be able to assess where they are on those seven structural quality indicators. And then we will be giving them a rating, if you will, of between an entry all the way up until a mastering. And then we will be able to really target our quality improvement resources based on the results of that individual programs scores on that ratings system.
Sly James: [00:47:36] You know one thing I would be surprised if anyone except the insiders that might be here have any idea what Family Conservancy is or does. You want to tell us?
Paula Neth: [00:47:52] We do this. We advocate about quality for all families and children in the metropolitan Kansas City area. And we do that from several different programs and approaches but we're really here to make sure that all families and children are happy, healthy, and educated.
Sly James: [00:48:11] They're the experts.
Sly James: [00:48:12] She wouldn't say. I will.
Charlie Shields: [00:48:15] So as a kindergarten teacher I have students come from Head Start programs that restrict the ability of the teachers to incorporate direct instruction of alphabet skills, numbers and early reading skills. As a result the students coming from Head Start programs have consistently entered kindergarten with little or no academic advantage compared to peers with no Pre-K.
Charlie Shields: [00:48:42] How will this plan ensure programs will promote academic and social emotional learning? That's a long question.
Paula Neth: [00:48:55] One of the things that we're requiring is that all participants in this program use a research evidence-based curriculum, which really focuses on a holistic child development approach and is developmentally appropriate. And so I think that's going to be a real key piece of this. And we will also be providing professional development and training around school readiness skills. So that that we will be providing training on, you know, numeracy, science, math and how do you build those skills in the classroom and use that with your curriculum. So that is definitely going to be a focus of this work.
Sly James: [00:49:43] You know, another thing too is that I don't want anybody to think that we are just straight up geniuses and pull all of this stuff out of the air. We didn't. We stole. We stole from the other cities who have the programs. And they were nice enough to let us pick their pocket, because we went to places like Denver that have been doing this for 10 years plus now. How did you do it? What should we be looking for? How do you make sure that you get quality?
Sly James: [00:50:10] We talked I talked to Julian Castro down in San Antonio about how he did it. We've talked to people in Seattle and Minneapolis and Tulsa and Boston and D.C. and wherever else they're doing this. And we picked some of the best parts of their programs. And the other thing is when you look at places like Denver, you look at places like San Antonio, and others that have been doing this for a while and you ask them what are the result. They have numbers. They have data. They have information that says what we're doing works and that's why we're doing it because we know it works, and we know other people, other cities are doing it and the benefits they are deriving. In the places that have had their second vote, their second vote passed by a lot more than their first, because then people understood. It's just exactly what happens. People are skeptical until they see it and once they see it they want more. That's exactly what happened with streetcar. That's what's going to happen with Pre-K and that's what's happened in other cities.
Sly James: [00:51:13] We just want to make sure it passes the first time here.
Charlie Shields: [00:51:18] So one of the questions, and you know I talked about you know why the sales tax. You actually answer that.
Charlie Shields: [00:51:26] Another thing you hear out there is the public school superintendents have a high level of low enthusiasm about this plan.
Charlie Shields: [00:51:38] Why is that?
Sly James: [00:51:42] Is Jessica Jessica go back over to the thing and pull up the slides from the KCS for me if you would please. To be honest they want to control the money.
Sly James: [00:51:55] They want to control the program. And they don't want to share outside of public schools.
Sly James: [00:52:00] And by doing that they cannot possibly reach all of the children in the city. They believe that anybody outside of the public school system that says the word education is incapable of doing what needs to be done to be blunt about it. The bottom line is that I've look at it very simply. There was nobody stopping anybody in any public school from doing what we're doing now.
Sly James: [00:52:26] That could have been done years ago.
Sly James: [00:52:29] Where was it?
Sly James: [00:52:31] It wasn't there. It wasn't being done. Look at what KCPS put on their slides.
Sly James: [00:52:38] They're going to lose six classroom. Go back to where it says if the tax does pass. All right. So they're looking at if the sales tax passes passing means families will have more choices.
Sly James: [00:52:52] We will have them fight for our seats. That's about competition.
Sly James: [00:52:58] That's about wanting to make sure that they maintain the market share. They have to demonstrate accessibility and quality starting now.
Sly James: [00:53:06] Was there something stopping them from starting then? Why starting now?
Sly James: [00:53:11] Identified Pre-K locations they can guarantee. T hey came yearly. We can help them identify Pre-K locations where they can stay on a year to year basis.
Sly James: [00:53:24] All of those things they said.
Sly James: [00:53:28] Go to the next slide, Jessica. If it doesn't pass the lose those seats. They have to establish a funding model to support their base.
Sly James: [00:53:36] They need consistent locations, consistent programs. They need to maximize all these things. They use income qualifications to address attendance issues.
Sly James: [00:53:46] They have to give general funds from their operating accounts, from their general operating accounts.
Sly James: [00:53:53] Go to the next slide, please, Jessica. Regardless of the outcome, their learning program should include true full day classrooms. Their competitors have this.
Sly James: [00:54:06] You can read the stuff yourself. It's on their Web site. But I want you when you read what you're writing about where up there are they talking about the kids? It talks about the classroom. It talks about money. It talks about not having any access. It talks about they have to move from year to year. It talks about the competition from other providers. Where does it say that by doing that, they're going to have a better outcome for kids?
Sly James: [00:54:37] They're focused on the things that they're focused on, because they are in survival mode in some respects with money.
Sly James: [00:54:43] I get it. But at the end of the day if we really want to focus on the kids, we can solve all these problems.
Sly James: [00:54:52] If you are not wanting to do this because you don't want to give up control somebody else, frankly they don't have control now. They don't educate most kids in Pre-K. Most of the kids in Pre-K are educated at St. Mark's Cathedral over there, and Emanuel and Swope Parkway and Miss Sally's house over at 39 and Agnes, and the church in the basement, the commercial place up north of the river. And at a charter school some place. They're are not in the public school system. They're not controlling the system.
Sly James: [00:55:24] They educate only a percentage of these children.
Sly James: [00:55:28] We're talking about making sure that every child has a place and that means we're willing to work with everybody including the school districts. But they're not willing to work with anybody, who's not a superintendent. That's basically the answer to the question.
Charlie Shields: [00:55:42] I knew I would get that response if I asked that question.
Sly James: [00:55:46] Yeah, you bated me.
Charlie Shields: [00:55:48] So I think you've answered this, because you've been about education since as long as you've been mayor and before Mayor, and I've known you that long. So why now? This is a question. Why now? What is the urgency to make Pre-K happen now?
Sly James: [00:56:05] Well the task force that KCPS put together five years ago didn't work. You know frankly we started working on trying to do things about education from day one in my administration. But we started with third grade reading. Pre-K was something that the school district was working on. It did not work.
Sly James: [00:56:24] So when they could not get it done, then others came together to put together a plan and the answer to why now is that's when the plan was ready. Just that simple. No mystery. Nothing mysterious about it. The plan was ready to roll and we're rolling with it. The other attempts simply did not bear any fruit.
Sly James: [00:56:46] Now here's the next question. If not now when?
Sly James: [00:56:50] Because if we don't do it now, I ain't telling you that there is going to be sitting somebody sit in my office who gives a damn. Because I was criticized for getting involved in third grade reading from get from the get go. Mayor there's nothing in the charter that says you ought to be doing anything with education. You have no right to be doing anything with education. You ought to be concentrating on potholes and all sorts of other nonsense.
Sly James: [00:57:12] And I simply said ok I will stop as soon as you tell me something that I am responsible for that is not related to the education of the people in this city and their ability to be good citizens paying taxes.
Sly James: [00:57:24] So give me some. I'm sorry what? Nothing. OK. Stop. Go away. Shut up. Leave me alone. We're going to work. We're going to make sure that our kids have the ability to succeed.
Sly James: [00:57:36] And if you can get jiggy with that then maybe you ought to re-examine what you think the role of leadership is as opposed to the role of politics.
Paula Neth: [00:57:48] And I'm just going to add that every four-year old who doesn't have this opportunity: They're never going to have that chance again. So that's why we have to do it now.
Charlie Shields: [00:58:02] OK last question. This is for both of you. So this is an economic development sales tax. Is Pre-K education economic development?
Sly James: [00:58:16] All right. Yeah. Pre-K education is economic development, because having Pre-K education is preparing the workforce of the future to be the workers of the future. I look at this very simply. I'm 67 years old, and I know that my age group is like the top of a mushroom. It's big it's spread out. Now those younger people, those millennials, those Gs, and the Xs and the Ys and the end and the Pi and that square root of 14 are the ones that are to stalk trying to hold up all those generation of those baby boomers. Now there they have some skills. But there's even fewer coming behind them, because those millennials ain't having no babies right now. They're trying to get stablished in job. And you know and it's really hard. Well hang on go and all that.
Sly James: [00:59:13] But there are engaged in other things. This economy is increasingly complex. It is increasingly technologically oriented. If we don't start training our people to be able to make the jumps to be able to, first of all, control themselves and learn how to work with others without conflict and without killing them. And if they don't have the skills to be adaptable learners every day of their lives and to be able to problem solve them be critical thinkers, they will not be able to adapt to an economy in a world that's changing every time a new iPhone comes out. I have a hard time keeping track of what charges will work with what instruments. They are the ones that are going to be building these things. So if we want a workforce that's going to be adaptable, nimble, and productive, we have to train our kids in a way that's going to give them all the tools and options that they need in order to succeed.
Sly James: [01:00:18] That's economic development. The currency of economic development is not moving a company from one place to another. That's the way it used to be. Everybody fought over the Ford plant or the Amazon 2Q or whatever. But when we tried to do the Amazon HQ two thing, the very first thing we learned was we don't have a workforce that was capable of doing that job. There was no way in hell they could come here. We don't have a workforce. We would have to import people from all over the place. And that's not what they wanted, which is one of the reasons I think they went east, where there's denser populations and a whole lot more colleges and universities in a smaller location. We don't have it. Talk to the companies in the city right now the CRN are the tech companies the big organizations they are mad -- not mad: They're concerned because they have to go outside of this area all the time to recruit talent to come work in the businesses that they've established. And it's much more expensive for them to do that. And while we're doing all of this going outside and looking for talent, we've got kids sitting around on street corners that finished high school and don't have jobs or didn't finish high school and don't have jobs, because they don't have the skills to do the work. So what we should've been doing was training up these kids so that they could become these workers and giving them the skills. And on the other hand when doing that one thing that we do know: We don't see many reports in the newspaper or on television of Ph.D.s engaging in gunfights with master's candidates outside of the library on the university campus. We see people with no education, low education, no options and no hope. They don't have much hope in their lives. Why should they give a damn about yours?
Sly James: [01:02:07] Starting at the beginning: Foundation, like we build a house. We go dig a big hole and put a foundation in it. We build up. But with our kids. We started the first floor and want to build up and then we wonder why things get shaky. We've got to change that model. So, yeah: It's totally economic development.
Charlie Shields: [01:02:28] So with that let me just ask either one of you or both of you to make if you want to make some closing comments and we'll start Paula.
Paula Neth: [01:02:42] I think the main thing for me is the urgency. I mean I think that we can't leave any more four year olds behind.
Paula Neth: [01:02:50] And this is our opportunity to step up and say we care. So I hope that you heard enough tonight that you will support this effort.
Sly James: [01:03:00] This is February: The interesting choice for Black History Month, the shortest month of the year. But it was Martin Luther King who talked about the fierce urgency of now. This is the fierce urgency of now. If we don't do what we know. I look at it very simply. We know what we need to do.
Sly James: [01:03:23] We know what we need to do. The difference is are we going to have the political guts to do it. And if we don't do it then please do me a favor.
Sly James: [01:03:35] If you're not going to help us with this then don't call my office talking about poor people. Don't call my office talking about people getting shot. And what I'm supposed to do about it. Because what we're supposed to do about it is to give people the opportunities, the skills, the wherewithal, and the options in life so that they don't have to kill somebody. And that's what this is about: Giving our kids the best opportunity for success that we possibly can. And if we don't do it that's on us as the adults. The kids aren't responsible. But they do grow up to be adults. And then it's too late.
Charlie Shields: [01:04:14] So I'm going to thank Paula. I'm going to thank my friend the mayor and then particularly thank all of you for coming out on a cold icy night. We appreciate your interest in this important issue for our community. Thanks so much.