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St. Louis Voters To Decide Whether To Increase Property Taxes For Early Childhood Ed

Children play in a preschool classroom at Commons Lane Elementary School in Florissant. The Ferguson-Florissant School District offers free half-day preschool but wants to expand offerings. Jan. 16, 2019.
File | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis residents will decide in November whether to increase property taxes in order to pay for more early childhood services, such as daycare.

More money will go toward early childhood education and services if St. Louis voters approve a property tax increase in November.

This month, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen placed a property tax levy on the Nov. 3 ballot that would increase the property tax rate by 6 cents.

“It takes money to move mission, and I believe there’s no better way to invest in our children of St. Louis than to raise these kinds of funds for them,” said Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, a Democrat from the 26th Ward.

The 6 cents translates to $22.80 more in property taxes for a home worth $200,000. It would raise an estimated $2.3 million annually to go toward the St. Louis Mental Health Board’s Community Children’s Services Fund. The increase to 25 cents per $100 of home value from the current 19 cents would max out the amount the fund can collect from taxes.

“The $2.3 million that is what we’ll be able to collect from this levy is just a drop in the bucket of what we need to ensure a better start for zero-to-5-year-olds,” Clark Hubbard said.

The children’s fund is distributed by the mental health board to other nonprofits that offer day care, afterschool and other youth programs. Currently, about $1 million of its total $7.5 million in funding goes to early childhood services.

It costs about $8,000 for a child to attend a preschool program.

“I think that part of what the advocates are hoping for is that there will be some funds devoted to not only increasing the number of places for kids to be but making the places that we do have really high quality,” said Jama Dodson, the executive director of the mental health board.

The tax increase is the latest in a list of efforts in the St. Louis region to target increasing access to early childhood education. WEPOWER, a community organizing nonprofit, is pushing for a tax increase in St. Louis County that would add more room in child care centers. St. Louis charter schools are working on ways to tap into more state funding to increase the number of free preschool spots.

At the same time, there’s concern that the current economic downfall could roll back public investments in pre-K. Even after recent increases in state funding, just 6% of 4-year-olds in Missouri and 1.5% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded pre-K last year.

The ballot initiative received overwhelming support from aldermen, but some expressed concern about the timing of asking for a property tax increase during a global pandemic and economic slowdown. 

“I know early childhood education is critical,” said Alderwoman Marlene Davis, who represents the 19th Ward and previously served on the city’s school board. “I get it, I believe in it, but I also have a lot of empathy for people of today and where we are. It’s just difficult.”

If approved by voters, the tax would go into effect in 2021.

Correction: This story initially misstated the ward that Shameem Clark Hubbard represents. She is an alderwoman from the 26th Ward.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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