Missouri has been struggling for years to find ways to increase funding for pre-kindergarten learning efforts. The profession also continues to battle serious worker retention problems.

Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph

State Representative Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, is proposing to let counties ask voters to levy an annual real property tax to help fund local early childhood education programs and services. During a Missouri House committee hearing, Shields says the levy could not exceed 40 cents per 100 dollars of assessed property value. The plan would also create seven-member county early childhood education boards to manage the tax funds.

“The population in our state that we really have lacked providing services to and helping families is our 0 to 3-year-old population, in which we know that 85% of the brain development happens,” says Shields. “I envision, but it’s not limited because it’s anything under the age of 5, but a lot of these funds will go to really support families and children from 0 to 3.”

In 1969, the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 40 to provide services for citizens with developmental disabilities. Shields says her bill is designed the same way, but instead to focus on early childhood education needs.

“Eighty-seven counties in the state of Missouri have voted to have Senate Bill 40 boards because Missourians saw the advantage of taking care of their neighbor,” she says.

Linda Rallo, vice president of a Kansas City area education nonprofit called Aligned, testified in support of the plan.

“This is exactly what we need in Missouri,” says Rallo. “We have federal funding that comes into our state and we have state funding through the foundation formula that funds pre-K, but it’s not enough to meet the needs of each community.”

Rallo says early childhood education solves a two-generation workforce problem.

“Our organization really sees early childhood investment as an investment in our workforce for the future – both for providing quality options for parents and providing a pathway for greater attainment of academic and social success later in life,” she says.

Craig Stevenson, with a child advocacy group called Kids Win Missouri, shared data about the state’s shortage of pre-K education providers.

“We have 72 counties that qualify as childcare deserts,” he says. “What that means is that for every licensed slot available in that county, there are at least three children who could fill that slot. So, 72 of our counties qualify as of a month ago. Five of our counties don’t have one licensed facility. Five other counties only have one.”

No one spoke in opposition to the measure.

To view House Bill 865, click here.

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