Isn't it time we took bette care of Tucson's preschoolers?
Prop 204, aka Strong Start Tucson, seeks to do just that by raising the sales tax by a half-cent per dollar to fund scholarships for 3- and 4-year-old kids.
Another tax increase, coming on the heels of Tucson voters agreeing to a five-year temporary tax to fix more of Tucson's streets, is not an easy thing to swallow. And when critics complain that the local sales tax is climbing too high, we can see their point.
Nonetheless, we believe the investment in young minds is worth it. The cost of high-quality preschool— $800 a month or more!—is beyond the reach of way too many families in this town, especially those who need it the most. The Republicans in the Arizona Legislature—despite professing to love all children—aren't doing so hot with helping those who have actually left the womb. Besides the ongoing war on public education, GOP lawmakers have totally fallen down on the obligation to help families with young kids, cutting daycare subsidies from $82 million a year to nothing seven years ago and only restoring a fraction of that since. It's no surprise that child-neglect cases skyrocketed in the wake of those cuts, among other cutbacks to social services meant to support families on the edge in our state. Essentially, the cuts have just shuffled costs to different agencies while ensuring a great deal of misery for children.
Thousands of kids across the state are just names on a waiting list. And there are way too many single moms in this town living in poverty who need safe and reliable childcare so they can get jobs—which might help them climb out of that poverty trap. Nothing against moms who can stay home with their preschoolers—God bless them!—but not everyone has the resources to make that work.
Then there are the benefits to the kids who attend high-quality preschool. On the whole, they are much more prepared for kindergarten, having learned many of the basics and developed crucial social skills that will help them succeed. And that means fewer future costs for social services, prisons and the like, not to mention better lives for those kids.
It seems like a no-brainer—and indeed, the Democratic Party's 2016 platform included a promise to "provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality pre-K programs."
Of course, Democrats are not in power in D.C., so they're in no position to deliver on that promise. And locally, the initiative has not only earned the predictable opposition of local Republicans, it has also split local Democrats, with many—including Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and all but one member of the all-Democratic City Council—opposing Prop 204.
They argue that there's not enough accountability built into the proposition and it relies too much on a City Council-appointed commission to set up the rules regarding what a quality preschool is or how the sliding scales for various income levels will work. Well, yeah: This is a charter amendment, and writing in the details of a sliding scale would be like putting the speed limit in the U.S. Constitution. The charter amendment should lay out the contours of the plan and the details should be flexible enough that they can change as circumstances do.
The commissioners, appointed by the City Council, serve four-year, staggered terms, so if some bad actors get appointed, it will be easy enough for the council to change the composition of the commission.
Some critics object that the plan sets aside 8 percent for administrative fees. Well, collecting a sales tax ain't free and the state and the city both take a piece of the action to cover their costs. By the time you get past that, there's not much for whatever nonprofit wins the contract to cover costs of administering the program. Bottom line: These costs are not unreasonable.
It's nice to think that if this fails, supporters will come back with a new plan in two or four or six or eight or 10 years. That's a lot of kids who are going to miss out on a better life while someone thinks of a better plan.
This is your chance, Tucson. Give our kids a better start to life.
Props 202 and 203
And speaking of a better life: How about also digging deep for an extra one-tenth-of-cent for the Reid Park Zoo? Props 202 and 203 have to both pass for the tax to go into effect because of some legal mumbo jumbo.
The zoo does a good job with the support it gets from the city, its admission fees and other revenue streams and the additional private dollars raised by the Reid Park Zoological Society, but this would allow the zoo to make some big improvements, including a tiger conservation center, a new exhibit for hippos and a bunch more.
The zoo is a great spot for families and does wonderful educational outreach for kids. And zoos all around the world—to include ours right here in Tucson—have come a long way in developing better environments for the animals in their care.
We're talking about paying an extra cent when you spend $10. You probably leave more than than in the Circle K penny cups every year. Vote yes on Props 202 and 203.