City Property Tax
The City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen placed a property tax referendum, Proposition R, on the November 2020 ballot to levy 25 cents per 100 dollars of property valuation—six cents higher than the city’s previous rate of 19 cents per 100 dollars. The estimated tax payment for a family with a house valued at $200,000 is $22.80 per year. Voters passed Proposition R with 56 percent of the vote, and the levy is projected to raise $2.3 million annually.
Tax revenue will be distributed through the Children’s Services Fund, which is managed by the St. Louis Mental Health Board (MHB). Rather than directly subsidizing care, the Board provides grants to licensed early childhood education (ECE) providers that serve children in St. Louis, including home-based care, community centers, private programs, and public programs. Providers must demonstrate they serve low-income children or that their programs lack access to quality resources. Grants may fund a variety of ECE services, including but not limited to technical assistance, recruitment, outreach, quality improvement consultation, professional development, data collection and evaluation, and child health and development screenings.
Children eligible for ECE slots
Missouri's rank in the country for child care subsidy reimbursement
Initially, two ballot measures were proposed by WEPOWER, a community organization—one in the county of St. Louis, and one for the city. The city is not part of any county, and the county surrounds the city but does not overlap with city jurisdiction. The county bill sought an increase in the sales tax, whereas the city bill utilized an increase in the property tax.
Vocal opposition from groups such as the local American Federation of Teachers and the Missouri National Education Foundation led WEPOWER to halt county efforts. Opponents noted a sales tax (proposed for the county measure) is regressive, adversely impacting people in poverty.
While COVID-19 also made community organizing and coalition-building difficult, safe door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, and mailers were effective tools.
Getting to Action
|2019||IFF publishes an early childhood education community assessment report, The First Steps to Equity.|
|2020||WEPOWER’s community leaders publish the Playbook, an action plan to transform the ECE system to be just and equitable. The Playbook recommends ballot measures in St. Louis city and county to generate public funding for ECE.
Community launch of Yes on R campaign; WEPOWER begins training on grassroots organizing.
|March 2020||Board Bill 8, sponsored by Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, passes unanimously, ensuring Proposition R’s inclusion on the November 2020 city ballot.
In St. Louis County, a campaign begins to collect signatures required to be included on the county ballot. Within just a few days, campaign leaders collect 10 percent of the signatures needed.
|Aug. 2020||The county ballot measure is prepared for introduction to the County Council by Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy. WEPOWER and its partners pause the county campaign due to the vague nature of the bill’s language and political pushback.|
|Oct. 2020||Congresswoman Cori Bush endorses the city campaign Yes on R.|
|Nov. 2020||In St. Louis city, Proposition R wins approval with 56 percent of the vote, authorizing the six cent property tax increase to fund childcare programming and service expansion for children zero-to-five in the city of St. Louis.|
- Voters approved Proposition R—the city’s first public source of ECE funding
- The campaign reached over 40,000 residents of St. Louis City
- Campaign leaders plan to pursue expansion to the county through another ballot measure in the future.
Keys To Success
Use The Right Funding Mechanism
Both city and county measures aimed to fund needed early childhood services. One did so through a sales tax, the other through a property tax. A modest property tax, in combination with a strong grassroots movement and a neutral administrator (MHB), proved to be a winning strategy.
Do Your Homework
Campaign leaders studied other relevant measures before launching Yes on R in St. Louis City.
Providers, parents, and early childhood center workers were major leaders of community outreach, even during the pandemic.
Intentionally Activate Black Women As Community Leaders
Black women make up many early childhood educators, caretakers, and providers in St. Louis. Organizing Black women to become active at all stages of the campaign was critical to getting out the vote. WEPOWER launched a community organizing training aimed at childcare workers and providers.
Focus On One Campaign
While the original intent was to run two concurrent ballot measures in St. Louis City and St. Louis County during 2020, WEPOWER and its partners decided to focus on Yes on R, the city campaign.