Program to boost childhood education may make November ballot


School leaders want to increase funding for early childhood education in Harris County. But to do it, you'd be hit with higher taxes. Some say the plan stinks.

This group is pushing to fund both private and public preschools, giving them money for teacher training, supplies and even new building facilities. But it's how that money would be distributed that's raising concerns for some.

There's no question that kids benefit from early childhood education. A local group called Early to Rise has collected nearly 150,000 signatures to fund such programs in Harris County. On Friday, superintendents of local school districts threw in their support.

HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier said, "Early childhood programs are essential to our work of preparing students to graduate, ready for college, and to contribute to Houston's economy."

The group hopes to raise $25 million a year by raising property taxes in Harris County. The average homeowner would pay an extra $19 a year. The county would collect the money, then it would be distributed by an appointed board of directors.

Proponents are working to get the initiative on the November ballot. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is in charge of that.

"I think a lot of well-meaning people have been suckered," he said.

Judge Emmett says the petition process hasn't been used since the 1930s, and may not stand up in court. Plus, he claims the group is misleading voters.

He said, "Do you support early childhood education? Well, sure. But do you support taking $30 million a year of taxpayer dollars and turning it over to a self-appointed private group to run the program the way they want to? I don't think so."

The judge says he's now scrambling for legal opinions.

"My first question has got to be legal," Judge Emmett said. "If the county attorney and the attorney general say, you know what, the law still applies and you have to do it, I'll do it."

"We hope, anyway, that his view on this improves," said James Calaway with the Early to Rise Campaign.

That group hopes to turn in the signatures by next week. They will have to be approved by August 26 in order to make it on to the November ballot.

Find Pooja on Facebook at PoojaLodhia-Reporter or on Twitter at @impoojalodhia

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