Voices of Everyday Leaders

by Wandra Green | February 20, 2019 3:48 pm

What Kansas City Is Doing About The Readiness Gap

“Approximately 65 percent of our children are not receiving the proper education that would close the readiness gap and eliminate any differences in measurable outcomes by race, ethnicity or family income,” said Seft Hunter, Ph.D., executive director of  Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO), a Kansas City non-profit organization with a mission of organizing communities for racial and social justice.

Hopefully, with the upcoming April ballot initiative to provide one-year pre-K education, things will get brighter for the four-year-olds in the city. The initiative secured the required 1,700 signatures.

The Pre-K for KC plan will ensure affordable and accessible pre-K education with proposed funding secured through a 3/8-cent sales tax and allow parents to receive a portion of the $10,000 – $12,000 cost of high quality pre-K education.

Three years ago, CCO and the Early Learning Commission began meeting to discuss pre-K education for Kansas City’s four-year-olds. With the aid of Community Change, previously known as The Center for Community Change Action, they have created a plan that will make it onto the ballot soon. Several local groups are actively engaged in fighting for the passage of the initiative, including Kansas City’s Mayor Sly James, Turn the Page KC, Literacy KC, St. Marks Child Development Center and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve known about this problem for a long time,” said Hunter. “What happens to kids who are missing opportunities, when they lack quality urban education? The research is clear, pre-K education makes a huge difference in the lives of children. If you support kids, the time to step up is now,” said Hunter.

The gaps in access for families of color make high quality pre-K education almost impossible without assistance from the city and the community. The students enter kindergarten ill-prepared, and this learning gap is never closed, which often contributes to the high dropout rate seen in urban schools.

In The Kansas City Star, “I’m a kindergarten teacher. Pre-K for KC deserves your vote,” Andrea Clayton-Jones shares justification for supporting the initiative, including providing opportunities for students to enter the classroom ready to learn; putting students on a path to long-term success; and ensuring students are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and are developmentally ready, will improve the entire school system.

Included in the plan is greater representation of families in leadership, those individuals who are directly impacted, as well as small childcare providers, such as mom-and-pop childcare centers.

CCO is mobilizing providers, advocates for children and families, child and family advocate organizations and parents and grandparents. And, in the coming months, February through March, CCO will have direct voter contact through canvassing, a digital campaign and five or six community events with a goal of reaching 37,000 to 40,000 voters. They also will enlist assistance from congregations. Mayor James and The Greater Chamber of Commerce will host events to ensure passage of this initiative.

If the tax passes in April, the city can raise $30 million per year to fund the program and 1) will increase high quality education for the four-year olds in the Kansas City system through targeted investment in pre-K providers; 2) ramp-up investments in access through increased seats and facilities investments; and 3) maintain high quality and shift the majority of funds to tuition discounts.

“Families are facing the enormous challenge of very high cost of high-quality pre-k. They must make extremely difficult economic choices that affect all other areas of their lives,” said Hunter. “With the Pre-K for KC program, we want to remove the cost barrier and make high-quality pre-K accessible to all KC families.

“There is a growing consensus that immediate action is needed to close the learning and opportunity gap. This plan gets us closer to this important goal.,” concluded Hunter.


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