St. Paul City Council To Put Pre-K and Child Care Ballot Question on Hold

A main architect of a ballot initiative is anticipated to slam the brakes on a proposal to use St. Paul property taxes to pay for child care and early childhood education grants for up to 5,000 low-income children on Wednesday, as backers on the St. Paul City Council are on the verge of abandoning it.

According to fellow council members and those with ties to the ballot initiative, city council member Rebecca Noecker is prepared to request the council not to vote on placing the tax assessment issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. Instead, she’ll probably suggest that the city form a legislative task group to examine, improve, and thoroughly scrutinize the grant program for daycare and early education providers, which has a price tag that even some of its admirers have referred to as onerous.

A more refined plan will be presented to the council in March with the intention of having it placed on the November 2023 ballot.

Noecker declined to speak about the specifics on Tuesday, saying she would save her public remarks for the city council meeting on Wednesday.

When the St. Paul All Ready for Kindergarten, or SPARK, coalition was unable to collect enough petition signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, according to city council president Amy Brendmoen, some council members who had been thought to be likely supporters became uncomfortable with the specifics. Brendmoen was not included on the supporters list.

Council members have participated along the road, but, according to Brendmoen, that engagement did not include having the ballot referendum presented to the council.

To manage the proceeds of a new property tax assessment and distribute grants to pre-K and childcare programs that assist low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, SPARK had suggested setting up a new charity.

Critics questioned whether grant winners would be required to offer any kind of education to the children under their care. In order to choose which pre-K providers would be qualified for city financing, proponents of a similar scheme that would have been funded by a local sales tax in 2017 suggested utilizing the “Parent Aware” pre-K rating system. The SPARK plan does not include such rating standards in an effort to be more accommodating to culturally-specific child care.

Brendmoen remarked that the talks at SPARK were complicated by issues with the staffing, administration, and enforcement of St. Paul’s new rent-control law, which was adopted by voters in November 2020. The city is currently looking for ways to close a $15 million budget gap brought on by the courts’ rejection of St. Paul’s roadway repair assessment system.

A tax assessment would require five votes from the municipal council to get to the ballot. Although SPARK organizers claimed to have four council supporters lined up—Noecker, Jane Prince, Dai Thao, and Nelsie Yang—Brendmoen and others have questioned whether they could rely on even one additional vote. In any case, Yang is taking a pregnancy leave, and Thao will leave the council on August 1.

Since the early childhood program’s beginnings four or five years ago, I have been a passionate supporter, Prince remarked on Wednesday. But this year just isn’t it. The financial shortage for immediate roadway maintenance has made the scheduling challenging, and I believe we need to put a lot more effort into what we’re producing in the coming weeks.

She pointed out that early childhood education was not being provided by the city of St. Paul.

Prince responded, seeing that she was still susceptible: “It’s the city setting up an organization to build up a one-stop shop. The employment of preschool instructors will not include the city, which is a major source of misunderstanding.

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