A referendum calling for a new property tax levy in Saint Paul to pay for early childhood education and childcare for low-income households will not be on the ballot this November after all. Instead, the City Council voted on July 27 to set up a legislative advisory committee to study the issue and the possibility of creating a grant program for the providers of childcare and early childhood education. A report by that committee is due by March 2023.

City Council member Rebecca Noecker brought the proposed referendum forward earlier in July with a goal of serving as many as 5,000 3- and 4-year-old children. “Right now we’re failing too many of our kids,” Noecker said. “Too many children are living in poverty, and they lack the resources to be ready for school.” Nevertheless, she did not think she had the five council votes needed to place the measure on the November ballot.

The referendum was the subject of a petition drive earlier this year by Saint Paul All Ready for Kindergarten. The group was hoping to create a separate nonprofit agency to administer the funds raised by a new property tax levy. However, the group failed to get enough signatures to place the matter on the ballot.

Several City Council members were skeptical of the proposal. Saint Paul officials are drafting a city budget for 2023, and they have to address a $15 million hole created by the recent district court decision that found the city’s street maintenance assessment program to be an illegal tax on nonprofit property owners. Another issue is the cost of implementing the new program if the ballot measure should pass.

   

— Jane McClure

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