On the Ballot

On the New Orleans ballot: What to know about the early childhood education millage

By Carly Berlin

Source: WWNO

April 28, 2022

New Orleans voters will see just one item on Saturday’s ballot: a millage proposal to fund early childhood education. We break down what you need to know before you head to the polls.

Dates, times and locations to know
Election Day is Saturday, April 30. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

You can look up your polling place at the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website here.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot
Shall the City of New Orleans be authorized to enhance early childhood development and education in New Orleans through the levy of a special tax of 5 mills on all taxable property within Orleans Parish for a period of twenty years (January 1, 2023 through December 31, 2042), with all tax proceeds dedicated exclusively to programs and capital investments that provide childcare and educational opportunities for Orleans Parish children who have not yet entered kindergarten, and with an estimated collection during the initial year of $21,274,959 if the foregoing special tax is levied in full?

How would the millage work?
The 5-mill property tax would dedicate funding for programs serving children who have not yet entered kindergarten.

That means homeowners would pay an extra $50 per year on each $100,000 of property value above the $75,000 homestead exemption, according to a report by the Bureau of Governmental Research, an independent public policy research organization in New Orleans. The BGR came out in favor of the proposed millage.

If the proposal passes, the city would begin to levy the tax in 2023, and it would run for 20 years.

Revenue from the tax’s first five years would be governed by local nonprofit Agenda for Children and the Orleans Parish School Board via an agreement approved by the City Council. The revenue would go toward an existing city-funded program, City Seats, which provides low-income families with access to high-quality childcare.

The City Seats program began in 2018, serving 50 children with $750,000 allocated by the city from its General Fund. The city has since upped funding for the program to $3 million, supporting 200 children from households earning less than $43,920, which was twice the federal poverty level for a family of 3 in 2021, according to the BGR report.

Last year, the state matched the city’s $3 million, expanding the program to serve another 200 children.

If voters approve the millage proposal, the city has estimated it will bring in $21.3 million in gross revenue during its first year.

The majority of that funding would be dedicated to expanding the City Seats program to serve 1,000 children by 2024, according to the city’s spending plan detailed in the BGR report. With an expected match from the state’s early childhood fund, the program could expand to serve 2,000 children.

The City Seats program currently serves 400 children: 52 infants, 89 one-year-olds, 112 two-year-olds, and 147 three-year-olds, according to its website. Over 8,300 children in Orleans Parish are eligible for the program and are not currently served, according to Agenda for Children and partner groups.

The revenue would also fund child and family support services through City Seats, expanding capacity for early learning centers, as well as outreach programs and enrollment coordination.

Advocates organized under the campaign banner of Yes for NOLA Kids have argued that the city desperately needs more public funding for affordable child care. According to its campaign website, only a quarter of low-income children ages three and under have access to publicly-funded early childhood education in New Orleans.

Hamilton Simons-Jones with the Yes for NOLA Kids campaign made the case for the funding source at a school board meeting in January.

“We know that children that have access to quality early care are less likely to require special education services, be retained a grade level, drop out of high school, develop a chronic disease in adulthood and be engaged in the criminal justice system,” Simons-Jones said.

Who’s for it? Who’s against it?
Mayor LaToya Cantrell has come out in favor of the millage proposal, as have several City Council members, including Council President Helena Moreno, Joe Giarrusso, Freddie King and Oliver Thomas. District Attorney Jason Williams has also endorsed the proposal. U.S. Congressman Troy Carter supports it too.

Four of the seven Orleans Parish School Board members have endorsed it: President Olin Parker, Vice President J.C. Romero, and members Katie Baudouin and Ethan Ashley. The full board has signed a contract with the city and Agenda for Children that would send $1.5 million annually from the millage to the New Orleans Public School district, dedicated to managing enrollment for early childhood education programs. The contract will take effect if the millage passes.

A long list of community groups have come out backing the proposal as well, including the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. Business associations including the Business Council of New Orleans & the River Region and the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce also support it.

The proposal has drawn little organized opposition.

That’s a change from the last time an early childhood millage was on the ballot in December 2020, when a ballot proposition pushed by Mayor Cantrell would have slashed the city’s public library budget in order to fund City Seats. The proposition was voted down after library supporters campaigned against it.

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