Supporters, opponents weigh in on Proposition 204

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) Campaign signs in support and against Proposition 204 are popping up across Tucson as Election Day approaches.

If it's passed supporters say the proposed half-cent sales tax increase would generate $50 million a year for early-childhood education scholarships at high-quality schools.

The financial aid program, known as Strong Start Tucson, would benefit between 6,500 and 8,000 children within Tucson city limits, proponents say.

Penelope Jacks, the chair of the Strong Start Tucson campaign, was once a kindergarten teacher who saw firsthand that the benefits of preschool go way beyond just reading and writing.

"What's much more important was the social and emotional things that children learn in preschool, which is how to cooperate with other kids, how to work as a team," Jacks said. 

Jacks says children that attend high-quality preschool are three times more likely to finish high school and earn more throughout their lives. She says only 1 in 6 children in Tucson attend high-quality preschool.

Supporters of Proposition 204 include Casa de los Niños, a number of professors from the University of Arizona and Children's Action Alliance. 

READ: arguments in support and against Proposition 204.

Opponents of the measure include the Pima County Republican Party and the Tucson Metro Chamber.

Ted Maxwell, the president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, says while he supports early childhood education, the way the proposition is written raises a number of concerns including governance and accountability. 

"There is very little to no detail in how the program itself is going to be structured," Maxwell said. "There's no definition of how much the scholarships will be or the vouchers, who's eligible."

The program would be overseen by a seven person commission appointed by the Tucson mayor and council. It would include childhood education providers and experts. They would determine a sliding scale for family contributions based on income. 

"All of the trust and all of the faith is based in an unelected commission that has no responsibility and no accountability to the voters," Maxwell said. "Yet they want to take $50 million in taxpayer money to fund the effort."

Jacks says low-income families would be eligible for more money, but wealthier families could still benefit. She says this is an initiative written by citizens, for citizens, and if citizens aren't in control of the people's money who should be? 

"It is the job of the mayor and council to appoint people who have expertise, who have no conflicts of interests, who have the best interests of children at heart," Jacks said. "If they are not appointing those people, mayor and council are accountable to the voters."

Opponents are also concerned that the measure does not include a sunset clause, but supporters argue there will always be a need for these types of scholarships. 

"It's forever," Maxwell said. "Whether the program works or not, whether they're able to expend the money or not, the half-cent sales tax will continue until the voters undo it."

"I don't see a sunset on people having children," Jacks said. "I think there's going to three and 4-year-olds as far as as we can ever see."

Jacks believes that a sunset would make sense when something is an experiment, but this has been tried in other cities and has been successful.

Jacks points to the city of Denver which implemented a similar tax, but Maxwell argues it was only for one-eighth of a cent and included a sunset.

"Denver we believe is a good model to show how a nice, measured approach will work and how it will be successful in the long-term," Maxwell said. 

While other cities have done it on a smaller scale, Jacks says Strong Start Tucson "wanted not to change the needle, but to change the meter."

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