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N4T Investigators: Proposition 204 - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Proposition 204

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Strong Start Tucson and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council say they are both big supporters of education.

However, they both have very different positions when it comes to Proposition 204.

"The initiative is just not good policy. It's not a good law and it's got some significant flaws," said SALC's Ted Maxwell.

"There are 14,000, 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson. Only 1 in 5 of them attend high-quality preschool and we want to change that," said Penelope Jacks with Strong Start Tucson.

Officially known as the Strong Start Tucson High-Quality Early-Childhood Education Financial Aid Program, Prop. 204 would raise about $50 million a year through a one-half cent sales tax increase.

The money would then be used to fund preschool financial aid programs.

"It will change preschool for children in Tucson. It's not a drop in a bucket. It's an opportunity for Tucson to lead," said Jacks.

News 4 Tucson Investigators found that the sales tax increase is higher than other similar programs.

Denver and San Antonio use sales tax funds to fuel their early childhood programs.

Denver has a one-sixth cent sales tax dedicated to the program, San Antonio's is one-eighth cent.

"This is an additional half cent which would mean the change in the Tucson city sales tax for the year was a 50 percent increase. We believe that's just an actual burden on many of the families the proposition aims to help," said Maxwell.

Critics are also concerned about who will be eligible for the program.

Only children living within Tucson city limits will be eligible for financial aid.

"We would like to see a county-wide proposition. All of our children deserve the opportunity to be educated," said Maxwell. 

"So some people say 'Oh well, if we can't do it for everybody let's not do it for anybody.' That seems to me to not make sense," responded Jacks.

A final point of contention over Prop. 204 is how taxpayer money will be spent and overseen.

According to the wording of the proposition, Tucson's Mayor and City Council will appoint a board to oversee the program.

Prop. 204 also requires that 92 percent of all money coming in be spent on financial aid.

"It essentially asks the voter to approve a half cents sales tax - $50 million - yet gives no indication how those funds are going to be used their objective," said Maxwell.

"Kids are the can that gets kicked down the road year after year. Every year we don't do this, 8,000 kids will be sacrificed. We could wait for state to do this, we could wait for the federal government to do it but we could wait forever," said Jacks.

The vote on Prop. 204 is scheduled for Nov.7.

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