On the Ballot

New Orleans voters back early childhood education millage in single-issue vote

By Matt Sledge

Source: The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

April 30, 2022

Voters in New Orleans on Saturday approved a property tax measure aimed at creating 1,000 or more early childhood seats for low-income children.

Support for the 20-year, 5-mill tax ran at 61% to 39% with all 351 precincts reporting, according to complete but unofficial returns on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website. There were 15,092 votes in favor of the proposal and 9,704 against.

Turnout, which was light for a ballot with a single item on the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, was 9.3%.

Supporters were confident they could rally their camp for the vote, and the proposition drew little organized opposition, but they still had reasons to be cautious.

In December 2020, Mayor LaToya Cantrell pitched voters on a plan to cut library funding in order to expand the City Seats program that currently provides funding for about 200 kids under the age of 4 to attend early-childhood programs. That proposal went down in defeat thanks to voters’ concerns about harming the library system.

This time around, Cantrell played a supporting rather than leading role in the campaign, and proponents built a broad coalition of business and educational leaders.

They argued that the program supported by the tax, which is predicted to raise about $21 million in its first year, will address endemic problems like crime and the lack of economic development.

The millage will add $50 annually on each $100,000 of property value above the $75,000 homestead exemption, according to the Bureau of Governmental Research. That translates to $172.50 on a house valued at $420,000.

About 70% of the money raised by the tax is slated to go directly toward children’s seats at early learning centers, with the rest toward overhead and expenses like building new centers.

In addition to direct support for early-childhood seats, supporters hope to effectively double voters’ investment by tapping a state matching fund.

The expanded program will be administered by the non-profit group Agenda for Children, with enrollment managed by NOLA Public Schools.

There are 8,300 kids who would be eligible to apply for the program through a lottery because their families are economically disadvantaged, millage supporters said.

Millage backers raised $319,000 for their campaign fund, Ready Kids New Orleans, through Monday.

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