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Community Group Wants St. Louis Region To Spend More Money On Pre-K Education

Children wait in line to grab their backpacks and find their classrooms during the first day of school at the Affton preschool center.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
A report by WEPOWER is asking St. Louis and St. Louis County to increase funding for pre-K programs.

A community organizing group wants St. Louis and St. Louis County to spend more money on early childhood education.

In a report released Thursday, WEPOWER proposed a ballot initiative in November that would allow St. Louis County voters to consider a half-cent sales tax increase to expand access to pre-K. The group's members said that would raise about $84 million a year.

The report also urges St. Louis officials to designate 2% of the city's general fund budget — about $22 million a year —  to early childhood education.

WEPOWER members said that would expand access to pre-K to children of families who do not qualify for subsidies but cannot afford pre-K.

“When we’re able to focus that money in an equitable way, we can really give these centers, school districts and home base providers a fighting chance,” said Joey Saunders, director of policy and systems change for WEPOWER.

The organization developed its proposals after parents, educators and others studied access to pre-K and funding over the past year. 

Its report also calls for the creation of a nonprofit that would support early childhood programs in the region that would coordinate with K-12 schools to develop a kindergarten-readiness assessment tool. 

WEPOWER members said they will try to build public support for their proposals, which they said could give children of low-income families the early preparation that other children have.

“We are working to build coalitions, and so that will be some of the work that we have ahead of us, is rallying people, getting everybody on the same page to move this forward,” said Gloria Nolan, advocacy and operations coordinator for WEPOWER.

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.