Philly’s Grocery Tax Can’t Fund Universal Pre-K
Jim Kenney (D-Philadelphia) promises to add universal pre-K to the city’s already distressed public schools. He made this promise knowing full well that the city is taxed to the max.
Kenney’s solution is to levy a beverage tax – at a whopping 3 cents per ounce – on the people of Philadelphia. Kenney said, “… this is not personal toward Big Soda, but there's a lot of money being made off the backs of poor people.”
Who will pay the tax?
If you have enough money, there will be plenty of ways to avoid the Kenney tax.
His Democratic colleague, Ed Rendell, makes clear that Kenney’s tax “unfairly hits poor people.” Lower income families may not have access to larger supermarkets that offer a wider variety of less expensive options. Or they may not own a car allowing them to travel outside the city for their grocery shopping. Or they may not have access to safe, reliable public transportation.
The mayor’s proposal is a false promise.
Former Governor Rendell expressed doubt that the soda tax will raise the requisite resources to fund a universal pre-K program. Mayor Kenney expects to raise $400 million over five years. However, in an interview with 1210 WPHT Philadelphia, Rendell said that the Kenney plan “wouldn’t generate the tax we need for full-day kindergarten.” Rendell understands what Kenney refuses to consider: If you want less of something, tax it.
Some money will be collected, but not enough to fully fund pre-K. The mayor will be forced to raise taxes elsewhere—property taxes, sales taxes, additional arbitrary taxes on other segments of Philly’s economy. Jobs will flee, and Philly’s poorest will suffer the most.
The soda tax will have robbed many families of precious dollars from their household budgets. Fewer jobs and less income will mean many parents will spend less time with their children.
Educational experts agree that parents and families are the first and best teachers for young children.
In a recent piece for U.S News & World Report, Dr. Katherine Stevens, an expert in early-childhood education, writes that “Pre-K can benefit many children.” However, “variation in pre-K quality can be huge: between different states, different cities, different programs within a city and even different classrooms within a single program.” Dr. Stevens continues by clarifying “there's nothing inherently special about pre-K any more than there is about Kindergarten or fourth grade. Good pre-K will benefit children; mediocre or bad pre-K won't.”
Dr. Steven’s affirms, “beginning at birth, children rapidly and continuously learn from whomever they're with, wherever they are, which is largely at home and in child care. Their healthy development depends entirely on the quality of those environments, because what really matters are children's hour-to-hour, day-to-day experiences starting in the first months of life. If we really want to help kids, we have to improve the quality of home environments and child care, not just increase the number of 4-year-olds attending public school.”
The Kenney tax will do little to close the achievement gap.
Children will not grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level; they will not graduate high school, hold a job, or form stable families of their own. Why? Because Mayor Kenney’s tax burden will drain from families the earnings that would be better spent on quality child care, and cheat them out of the quality time devoted to their children.