Early to Rise Campaign proposes tax increase for early education

Proposal based on property value, so homeowners will want to pay close attention

By Khambrel Marshall - Meteorologist, 'Newsmakers' Host

HOUSTON - Most people can probably agree that early childhood education is a good thing.

Research shows that the first years of life are the most important when it comes to the foundation of education for any child. The question becomes how to best pay for it.

A Harris County group is in the process of gathering 78,000 signatures to make sure money is available to fund early childhood education in the greater Houston area.

Calling it the Early to Rise Campaign, the group, made up of organizations and community leaders with a focus on education, aims to propose a one cent tax per $100 of property value, with the money raised to be committed specifically to early childhood education programs.

"Our focus is around improving the quality of childcare  for low income children," said James Calaway, Board Chair of Center for Houston's Future. "There's very very little public resource to improve quality and its very important we improve that quality while at the same time not raising costs for  already cash strapped parents who are paying a great deal for the care that they must have to work."

"Our objective is to use the ten years of work at programs like Bright Beginnings of the United Way and others to expand those programs because we now know what to do," Calaway said.

The children at the West End Child Care Center are lucky. They're part of the Bright Beginnings program sponsored by the United Way.

All the caregivers at the center have taken advanced early childcare training which means the children have a better start in life, something experts say is critical for the health of our community.

Dr. Steve Klineberg is the Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and says the statistics he's studied are crystal clear.

"Middle class families make sure their kids get quality early education," Klineberg said. "Poor families, poor kids start about two years behind before they get to kindergarten and never catch up." 

The proposed one cent tax per $100 of value would mean that home valued at $200,000 would cost the home owner an extra $20 in taxes. 

Carol Shattuck is the President and CEO of Collaborative for Children which focuses on early care and education from birth to six years.

"When I look at the high return on investment that we get in trying to provide solid parenting information and high quality early education to our young children, that's an investment I want to make as a tax payer," Shattuck said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is not a fan of the proposal for several reasons, including the way the petition drive was begun.

Emmett says raising taxes by the amount proposed could trigger the ability for taxpayers to ask for a roll back of existing taxes. He also says it is unclear how the taxpayers' money would be used by the private non-profit group designated to receive the funds.

"It's just going to create a political ongoing fight that we just don't need," Emmett said. "We need to be focused on what can we do to provide services to children and this doesn't do that.

Because this proposed tax increase will be based on property value, homeowners will want to pay close attention.

Organizers say they hope to have the 78,000 signatures they'll need by mid August and have their tax increase question on the ballot in November.

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