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Missouri lawmaker proposes first-ever tax to fund preschool

Sen. Bob Dixon's bill would let Greene County pilot a new sales tax to fund a pre-k school system.

April 09, 2013|by Joanna Small, KSPR News | Reporter and Photographer

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A state lawmaker proposes using your tax dollars to fund a pre-school system in Greene County.  He says it would fix a host of problems from child abuse and neglect to high school dropouts.

"What if I told you, with a very small investment, we could get rid of child abuse and neglect, or at least reduce it, lessen the aggression and discipline problems in our classrooms, reduce public safety costs, and reduce our reliance on social services?" Denise Bredfelt asked a room full of Springfield City Council members on Tuesday afternoon.

It sounds like a no-brainer, right?  The Mayor's Commission for Children, however, didn't come to the council lunch meeting to ask for money.  Bredfelt just asked for their attention.

"There are kids who have never ever had a book read to them when they go to kindergarten," she said.

Bredfelt says there's a proven solution.

"It's called an effective pre-k education."

The Mayor's Commission says the numbers in Greene County are startling.  About 20 percent of kids show up to elementary school essentially out of the blue, meaning they never attended any kind of pre-k program.  By the same token, about 20 percent of kids are not ready for kindergarten when they should be.

Bredfelt says there's only one free preschool program in the state and not enough others.  Enter Senate Bill 415.

"All the bill does is authorize the county to put before the voters a tax of up to a quarter cent for the purpose of early childhood education," Sen. Bob Dixon said in a telephone interview from his office in Jefferson City.

Dixon would like Greene County to pilot it, leaving the specifics up to voters.

"We wanted to make sure we weren't requiring or mandating, putting private providers out of business," Dixon said.

Bredfelt says it just may be the small investment we need.

"All of our neighboring states invest more money in pre-k than we do, so we're behind the eight ball and behind 35 other states," she said.

Dixon says the money raised by the tax could be used any way voters choose as long as it helps pre-k programs.  He says, more than likely, it would be turned into grants to pay for children who can't afford it to attend pre-k classes.
 
Dixon's bill is still in committee.  It's the first time any kind of sales tax for pre-k has ever been proposed.

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