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Politicians have different approaches to universal preschool for Missourians

Politicians have different approaches to universal preschool for Missourians


More accessible preschool is a priority for many high-ranking politicians, but lawmakers don't have a uniform approach on how to make that happen.

The estimated cost for a family to send their child to preschool in Missouri is $8,600 a year, according to a White House study, and only 14% of Missouri families have access to publicly funded preschool. State and federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have floated proposal about how to make preschool more accessible to those who can't afford it.

Office of Childhood

The Missouri Office of Childhood just celebrated 90 days of existence. The office, under the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was created as part of Gov. Mike Parson's effort to streamline early childhood education in Missouri.

“This is also a critical area of workforce development for our state," Parson said in a statement provided to ABC 17 News. "We must see to it that the workforce of tomorrow starts off on the right foot, and that means better support for Missouri children and their families.” 

ABC 17 spoke with Pam Thomas, the office's assistant commissioner. Thomas said access to preschool across Missouri varies from place to place.

"One of the reasons that we have inconsistencies across the state is because we have areas and communities where there may be no options for preschool, or there are options, but they can't afford to attend, or maybe there are options that aren't quality options or the quality options are already full," Thomas said.

Build Back Better framework

President Joe Biden's Build Back Better Agenda includes a plan to provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds across the country. Biden boasted during his visit to Kansas City that people would spend no more than 7% of their income on childcare under his plan.

A document released by the White House titled "The Build Back Better Framework Will Deliver for Missouri" says parents will be able to choose whatever kind of preschool they want and have it publicly funded through this plan.

The framework passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November, and Democrats say they want a vote in the Senate before Christmas.

Rep. Emanual Cleaver (D-Kansas City) voted in favor of Biden's framework. Cleaver said the legislation, which boasts increased benefits and decreased taxes for middle-class Americans, will provide publicly funded programs by taxing wealthy Americans and companies.

"By making sure billionaires and millionaires as well as Fortune 500 companies pay their fair share, we can provide a historic tax cut to middle class workers, invest in affordable child care for working families, implement universal pre-K for our children," Cleaver said in a press release.

Cleaver said Build Back Better could create preschool access for more than 115,000 Missouri children.

Tax cuts for preschool families

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) told ABC 17 he hopes the Senate does not pass Build Back Better. Hawley called the framework "a giant welfare bill that benefits illegal immigrants."

Hawley does support the idea of expanded access to preschool, but not Biden's approach to it. Instead, Hawley proposed a tax cut for parents.

"I've actually proposed a major tax cut in the form of a refundable tax credit for every parent in the United States, including of course in the state of Missouri," Hawley said. "My view is that families ought to be able to decide how they want to raise their kids in terms of childcare."

Hawley's bill would provide $6,000 for single parents and $12,000 for married parents on their tax returns. In order to be eligible, parents would have to prove on their tax returns that they were working at least 20 hours a week the prior year and earned at least $7,540 a week.

Hawley introduced the bill in April.

The tax code already includes a child care deduction of up to $3,000 for one child and up to $6,000 for two or more.

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


1 Comment

  1. By all means, let’s put our preschool age children in government indoctrination centers to keep them out from underfoot, and let you escape parental responsibility.

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