Harris County judge mulls putting pre-school funding proposal on Nov. ballot

Petitions for Early to Rise initiative
August 13, 2013 4:22:11 PM PDT
Voters in Harris County may be asked to pay for another initiative -- this one aimed at improving early childhood education in the county, specifically in preschools. But it's not on the November ballot just yet.

For the first time ever, 150,000 Harris County voters are asking to pay more taxes to help improve pre-schools in our community. The petitions were rolled into the county judge's office Tuesday. The signors want a vote, but the county judge isn't sure he can give it to them.

The boxes don't look menacing on a street corner downtown, it's just a collection of paper. There are 150,000 signatures from citizens saying, "Raise my taxes, I all want better pre-schools." But make no mistake, these boxes could be a game changer.

The signatures were gathered this summer by a group hoping to put the question on the November ballot. If it passes, the Harris County Department of Education would raise roughly $25 million a year every year in increase tax.

The money would be collected by the Harris County Department of Education, but given to a non-profit to spend, hiring other non-profit groups to improve pre-school teachers and facilities.

"There's no way to address the critical problems we're trying to solve in a short sprint. This has to be a sustained, durable commitment to the small children of our community," said James Callaway with the Early to Rise Initiative.

But there's no certainty this belongs on a ballot. Proponents are relying on an old law that's never been used this way. The law, says, get enough signatures to County Judge Ed Emmett and he has no choice but to put the question on the ballot The judge doesn't see it that way, at least not yet and he's in a tough spot.

"If I put it on the ballot, then there's another group that may sue me for putting it on the ballot because they say the law doesn't apply; and then the group that wants it on the ballot, they've already publicly said to many, many people they're going to sue me if I don't put it on the ballot," Emmett said.

The judge has until August 26 to make a decision to put it on the ballot. He's asked the attorney general for advice. The county attorney already told Emmett to put it on the ballot.

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