SEPTEMBER 29, 2020

The Most Important Vote You Cast This November Might Not Be for President, but for Our Children. (Brought to You by the Letter ‘R’)

In many ways, the fight ahead seems impossible; and yet, so many of us have achieved things deemed impossible that we aren’t even flinching at the thought of this challenge, especially not when our babies are at stake. Many of us were born into neighborhoods and skins where, statistically, we were told it was impossible to graduate college and yet here we are with diplomas and, for some, even doctorates. Now we’re told it’s impossible to win a ballot initiative with barely one month and almost no money to run a campaign in the middle of a pandemic during one of the noisiest election cycles in history. Well, to our haters and our doubters we stand proud and tall as Black women — mamas, teachers, small business owners, grandmas, center directors, and more— fighting for Prop R. Why? Because passing Prop R means millions of dollars going toward early childhood programs and services for the beautiful babies of St. Louis City who need them most.

 

R is for… Ready.

 

Proposition R, if passed, will raise an estimated $2.3 million each year for early childhood (birth-to-5) programs and services. The funds will be distributed equitably (prioritizing St. Louis City children and families demonstrating the highest need) by the St. Louis Mental Health Board (MHB), which has earned the region’s respect by having a quarter century of controversy-free experience distributing tax dollars impactfully to organizations providing an array of social services. The money would come from a modest increase in property taxes that homeowners wouldn’t see until the end of next year. The impact on homeowners would be just $11.40 per year for every $100,000 their home is worth. This investment would be applied toward services that raise or maintain program quality, offsetting costs and making high-quality programs more affordable and accessible to lower and lower-middle income families. Trust us, no one has lost more during this pandemic than our community, so we don’t take the idea of raising taxes right now lightly, even if it is such a small amount. Here’s why we know it’s worth it and why this is needed now more than ever:

 

Some of us are public school teachers and those of us who’ve taught kindergarten can tell right away which kids are coming from early childhood programs and which aren’t. There are truckloads of research that make it clear that these programs aren’t  just essential for getting our babies ready for kindergarten, no, high quality early childhood programs get them ready for life. Sure, coming to school on day one knowing the alphabet, counting, maybe reading and writing a few words, it absolutely helps. But the explosive brain development in the first five years of life forms the essence of who we are and how we function as human beings for the rest of our lives. Academic learning is important, but the strong foundation of social emotional learning and soft skills called “executive functions” (like self-control, working memory, emotional self-regulation, problem solving, and more). The research is clear: the best way to ensure children have the strongest foundation is high quality early childhood programs and the earlier they start, the readier they, their families, and the community will be to thrive.

 

R is for… Racial Equity.

 

But it could just as easily be for “rage.” The fury and heartache we feel amid so much racial injustice burns us from the inside as if the sweet lies we’d been fed about Bootstraps and American Dreams since we were young suddenly turned to acid. Breonna Taylor. Nina Pop. George Floyd. Stephon Clark. Eric Garner. Philando Castille. And so, so many others. Michael Brown’s murder still feels like yesterday, perhaps because so little has changed. The resulting Ferguson Commission report, Forward Through Ferguson, identified supporting and investing in the early childhood system as a signature call to action, an important first step on the path to racial equity.

 

More recent local reports like The First Step to Equity, and the fiscal mapping done by research partners have shown us how dire the disparities really are in our region’s early childhood system. As a whole, the system is dangerously underfunded. There is no local, dedicated public funding stream and the state of Missouri is ranked 49th for childcare subsidy reimbursement. That means, unless families qualify for the very limited number of federally funded Head Start or Early Head Start slots or manage to get one of the even more limited free pre-K slots for 4 and 5 year-olds at St. Louis Public Schools, they only have access to high quality early childhood programs if they pay for it themselves.  And even that’s only if they can find space somewhere. The system isn’t designed for us – Black and Brown women and our babies. It’s time to change that November 3rd.

 

In St. Louis, before the pandemic, only 19 percent of 0-5 year olds eligible for subsidies had access to an early childhood program that met requirements beyond licensing, an indicator of program quality. Less than half had access to any program at all— quality or otherwise— in their neighborhood. Early this month (September 2020), the state stopped pandemic relief for early childhood and childcare providers. With the demand for these services rising, especially for first responders and healthcare workers, while CDC guidelines cut the number of babies and children allowed per room, and financial strains associated with the pandemic causing many programs to close, some permanently, the entire system is being decimated.

 

If we don’t act quickly, the system will continue to collapse, having a profound, disastrous ripple effect on the workforce and our already lagging economic and education systems likely leading to increased crime. Let’s invest in a future that values our babies’ brilliance and humanity instead of criminalizing them. 

 

R is for… Revolution.

 

Earlier this year, many of us organized to successfully secure $1.6 million of CARES Act funding for early childhood programs in St. Louis City. But that was just a one-time band aid and wasn’t nearly enough. Acting now to pass Prop R on November 3rd will be a crucial step in the right direction. It means sustainable, public investment in programs and services proven to transform lives and communities. I don’t know about you but, to us, that’s worth investing less than most families spend on a single trip to movies back into the community each year.

 

$2.3 million a year isn’t a magic bullet, that doesn’t exist. But we need to do something now. We must build upon the work started by the Tomorrow Builders and the more than one thousand community members who contributed to The Playbook, an action plan for reimagining and redesigning the early childhood system to be just and equitable for all. We embrace our roles as revolutionaries fighting for our babies.

 

From the brain science and research the evidence of what’s possible for our babies is too inspiring not to fight against the supposed impossibilities of current circumstances.

 

We know building a future where all St. Louisan children, birth-to-5, have equitable access to affordable high quality early childhood programs will be revolutionary. Those children will improve academically, graduate at higher rates, have more successful relationships, earn more money over their lifetimes. There will be a decrease in infant and child deaths and the number of children who require costly special education services thanks to increased, earlier access to health and developmental screenings. Crime rates, particularly violent crimes, will plummet. Workforce productivity will rise. Zoos and sports stadiums are fun, and we hate potholes as much as the next driver, but the research is clear that communities thrive when we prioritize investing in our babies, our futures.

 

So join us in shattering the impossibilities of today to build a revolutionary tomorrow full of boundless possibilities for our children.

 

Join us in fighting for Prop R.

 

We have four calls to action:

  1. Sign up here to phone bank with us.
  2. Donate to the campaign here.
  3. Create a plan to vote at WEPOWER election center.
  4. Celebrate this campaign with us at our launch party on October 1st! RSVP here.

 

Signed,

Early Childhood Education Power Builders, WEPOWER

Tomorrow Builders, WEPOWER

 

Paid for by Ready by Five STL City

Stephen Westbrooks, Treasurer