“Quality pre-K provides the best foundation for Kindergarten readiness, which is important to third grade reading proficiency. It also helps reduce the achievement gap.”
— Sly James, Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri



The KC Pre-K Program Implementation Plan is based on best practices from 10 U.S. cities and five years of intensive local planning.The plan roadmaps the KCMO pre-K landscape, program goals, strategies, guidelines, action steps and timeline to strategically expand access to high-quality pre-K for all KCMO families.

THE PROBLEM: The demand for high-quality pre-K exceeds the city’s current capacity to supply pre-K for its four-year-olds. Currently, only 34 percent of KCMO four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality pre-K program. Additionally,issues of pre-K affordability and accessibility remain two of the greatest inherent barriers facing KCMO parents.

VALUE CHALLENGES: Racial and Socioeconomic Equity, High Quality, Accessibility and Affordability

THE SOLUTION: Fund high-quality pre-K for all KCMO children with an estimated investment of $30 million a year through an economic development sales tax paid by residents of and visitors to Kansas City, Missouri.


1. Ensure high-quality, affordable pre-K is available to all KCMO children the academic year prior to entering Kindergarten.

2. Create and support a citywide high-quality pre-K program that focuses on the three building blocks of school readiness: self-regulation, social expression, and Kindergarten academics as well as motor skills, the foundation for these building blocks .

3. Close the Kindergarten readiness gap to ensure there are no differences in measurable outcomes by race, ethnicity, or family income.

4. Support providers with resources to ensure all KCMO pre-K students receive attentive instruction that provides developmentally appropriate opportunities, within intentionally planned spaces, to grow cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically.

5. Endorse data-driven decisions and foster community-accountability partners to uncover bias and ensure diversity, equity, and inclusivity in all decision making.

6. Cultivate an Early Childhood Education workforce of diverse professionals who are respected for their work, paid adequately for their time, and representative of the communities they serve.

7. Install the Early Learning Program Profile (ELPP) to help providers identify the strengths of their programs and prioritize areas for improvement.

8. Improve accessibility, quality, affordability, and equity of pre-K in KCMO through three investment strategies: tuition discounts for families, quality improvement grants, and facilities funding for providers.

9. Allocate funding in three phases, where spending gradually shifts from start-up and ramp-up spending toward building and maintaining high-quality programs and student enrollment.

Phase 1: Increase high quality in KCMO system through targeted investment in pre-K providers.
Phase 2: Ramp-up investments in access through increased seats and facilities investments.
Phase 3: Maintain high quality and shift majority of funds towards tuition discounts.

10. Measure accessibility and affordability of investments, giving all KCMO children an opportunity to enroll in high-quality pre-K without geographical, cost, or language constraints.

“Quality Early Childhood Education is a long-term, powerful economic development tool. It’s an investment in our future workforce. If we’re going to create or grow our businesses, we’ve got to care. If we don’t grow our own talent, it’s at our peril. And who knows? One of those children benefiting from pre-K education could grow up to be the next Ewing Kauffman…The KC Chamber believes quality early childhood education is a good investment and one that greater Kansas City needs to make — for our kids and for our future.”
— Joe Reardon, CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce


Current Pre-K Landscape in KCMO

There are approximately 6,750 four-year-olds in KCMO. Each of these children have their entire life before them; but often, many of them begin life disadvantaged by racial and socioeconomic disparity. Leading urban economic development, equity-based education reform, and general ECE research illustrates an absence of high-quality pre-K typically produces devastating, lasting effects on a child’s long-term success. Moreover, pre-K data analysis indicates children who received a high-quality pre-K education had increased test scores throughout their academic careers, were more likely to graduate from high school, accounted for fewer arrests, and earned higher lifetime wages as well as increased overall wealth.[1] Although high-quality pre-K is important for child development and long-term success, only 34 percent of the 6,750 four-year-olds in Kansas City, Missouri are enrolled in high-quality pre-K programs (Figure 2).[2]

Figure 1. Current KCMO Pre-K Enrollment by Quality[3]

Some might ask: Why would parents not enroll their children in pre-K if it is so beneficial? The reality is: For many hard-working KCMO parents, it is not as simple as making a choice. In the current KCMO landscape, high-quality pre-K is difficult to access and afford for a large percentage of residents.

A significant percentage of KCMO parents encounter roadblocks when trying to access high-quality pre-K programs. The prominent local barrier is that there are not enough affordable, high-quality pre-K seats to serve all KCMO four-year-olds. In fact, 40 percent of four-year-olds do not have access to any pre-K program in their neighborhood, let alone a high- quality one. This barrier can force parents to take their children on long and sometimes unfeasible commutes.[4] KCMO Head Start locations, which offer low-income families access to high-quality pre-K, report having as many as 300 families on their waiting lists.[5] There are roughly 2,400 eligible children for the 1,000 Head Start seats in KCMO (Figure 3). Current pre-K access in KCMO is limited to those with means and time, and this leaves approximately 4,388 KCMO four-year-olds on the outside of programs that can dramatically improve their quality of life.

Figure 2. Head Start Coverage of KCMO 4-Year-Olds (FPL = Federal Poverty Line) [6]

In cases where geography is not a barrier, available pre-K seats remain out of reach for most families due to high cost. The median annual household income in Kansas City, Missouri is $47,489, and the cost of a full-day, high-quality pre-K program in KCMO is $12,000. In this paradigm, the average parent would have to spend approximately 25 percent of their income on pre-K tuition to send their child to a high- quality program.[7] This is simply not feasible for most KCMO families. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), affordable tuition is defined as no more than seven to ten percent of a family’s income.[8] The issue of affordability is compounded for the one in five KCMO residents who live below the U.S. poverty line. The KC Pre-K Program value paradigm is that every child deserves the chance to attend a high-quality pre-K program. Four-year-olds are just beginning their life’s journey, yet when their parents cannot access or afford high- quality pre-K programs, they begin far behind the starting line.


[1] Glendean Hamilton and John Scianimanico, Assembling the Building Blocks: Recommendations for Universal Preschool in Kansas City, Missouri, report, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2017)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Glendean Hamilton and John Scianimanico, Assembling the Building Blocks: Recommendations for Universal Preschool in Kansas City, Missouri, report, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2017).
[5] Ibid.
[6] 2016 U.S. Census American Community Survey
[7] Ibid.
[8] Josh Bivens et al., It’s Time for an Ambitious National Investment in America’s Children, report, April 6, 2016, , accessed July 28, 2018, https://www.epi.org/ publication/its-time-for-an-ambitious-national-investment-in-americas-children/

“No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change…Research increasingly has shown the benefits of Early Childhood Education and efforts to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills for both individuals and the economy as a whole.”
— Ben Bernanke, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve


Benefits of High-Quality Pre-K

The academic, cognitive, and social benefits of attending high-quality pre-K significantly increase a child’s academic success and their future economic contributions. Parents who are able to enroll their children in high-quality pre-K are typically more productive employees, with fewer worries for their child’s well being.[1]  Moreover, children who attend high-quality pre-K programs show improved social and emotional skills that are key in driving cognitive achievement, better health outcomes and overall quality of life.[2] Children who attend high-quality pre-K show an empirical gross higher lifetime earnings and are more likely to graduate high school (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Benefits of high-quality pre-K [3]

Guided play and supportive child-teacher interactions—components of high-quality pre-K—help level the playing field by ensuring that children from all-income levels are prepared to enter Kindergarten.

Social-Emotional Learning
Social-emotional learning starts at an early age and continues over the course of a lifetime. This type of learning teaches children and adults how to comprehend and control their emotions, set positive goals, develop and show empathy, and build and maintain positive relationships.[1] Social and emotional learning focuses on the soft or social skills (see Figure 11) that are important keys for success in the workplace. Early Childhood Education has a positive impact on children’s social and emotional skills, and once these benefits are gained they do not diminish. Guided play, a prominent feature of Early Childhood Education, enriches cognitive growth and supports the development of problem-solving skills in children. Guided play allows children to take control and explore in the classroom setting, while the educator supports them, prompting with questions and interactions that pique their interests and focus on learning the curriculum. This type of learning improves language, creativity, and social skills. These learned skills form a foundation for a life of personal and academic success.[2]

Research shows that children who develop social and emotional skills at a young age are less likely to get involved in criminal activity. When children are taught to recognize and regulate their emotions, they are less likely to act out, show aggression, or become unfocused.[3]

Figure 2. Social Emotional Learning Parameters

Positive Health Outcomes
Children who attend high-quality pre-K have a greater number of positive health outcomes throughout their lives compared to children who did not attend. Children who attend Early Childhood Education programs learn skills that help them choose healthier food options and make them less likely to experience obesity.[4] [5] Children who attend high-quality Early Childhood  Education programs have a higher rate of access to health care, including check-ups, dental care, age-appropriate screenings, and vaccinations.[6] These children are less likely to experience abuse, neglect, and injury in their homes, especially in programs that engage families in the child’s education.[7] The social-emotional skills developed in early childhood education likewise have lasting effects on health; these skills are associated with the lifelong benefits of improved mental health, reduced stress, and better decision-making skills.[8]

Return-on-Investment (ROI)
To compete and succeed in an ever-changing and increasingly interconnected marketplace, KCMO’s economy depends on a strong workforce. Investing in high-quality Early Childhood Education lays the groundwork for tomorrow’s workforce while promoting a strong workforce today. This program provides a two-generation approach to long-term economic growth.

Research shows that a high-quality Early Childhood Education increases a child’s chance of reaching high school graduation by 31 percent, attending college by more than 80 percent, and increasing employment rates by 23 percent. For example, an annual investment of $16,000 – $18,000 per child in the early years, returns $700,000-$800,000 during the life of that child.[9] The public benefits from a highly skilled workforce with higher job earnings, increased tax revenues, and overall better health outcomes.

High-quality Early Childhood Education decreases government spending on public assistance programs and the criminal justice system.[10] Figure 12 shows the public benefits accrued over time from children who attended HighScope Perry Preschool program in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at a rate of 13 to one.

Figure 3. Example of the Economic Return on Investment in Pre-K

Working parents rely on Early Childhood Education services. The modern American workforce includes an unprecedented number of parents. High-quality Early Childhood Education supports working parents by giving them the opportunity to pursue higher education and increase their participation in the labor force. Their employers see reductions in workplace absenteeism, increased productivity, and a rise in employee retention.[11] Business leaders understand that a well-educated workforce helps support a strong economy. Companies have increasingly provided employees resources like Flex Spending Accounts (FSAs) to cover Early Childhood Education costs, on-site facilities, and backup childhood education resources designed to improve the quality of living for their employees.[12] However, this private/corporate assistance is not accessible to everyone. For KCMO’s future economy, high-quality Early Childhood Education is a winning proposition. Early Childhood Education investments strengthen business today while building the workforce the city will depend on for decades to come.


[1] Josh Bivens et al., It’s Time for an Ambitious National Investment in America’s Children, report, April 6, 2016, accessed July 28, 2018, https://www.epi.org/ publication/its-time-for-an-ambitious-national-investment-in-americas-children/
[2] P. Gertler et al., “Labor Market Returns to an Early Childhood Stimulation Intervention in Jamaica,” Science 344, no. 6187 (2014): , doi:10.1126/science.1251178
[3] Benefits of high-quality pre-K, digital image, What Is High-Quality pre-K, accessed July 28, 2018, http://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/what-is-high- quality-pre-k/
[1] “What Is SEL?” Casel. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://casel.org/what-is-sel/
[2] Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy. “Play.” Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. 2015. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://kathyhirshpasek.com/play/
[3] “Research Summary: The Jamaican Study.” The Heckman Equation. February 06, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://heckmanequation.org/resource/ research-summary-the-jamaican-study/
[4] Clive R. Belfied and Inas Rashad Kelly. “Early Education and Health Outcomes of a 2001 U.S. Birth Cohort,” Economics and Human Biology 11, no. 3 (2013): 310- 325,  doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2012.05.001
[5] K. D’Onise, J.W. Lynch, M.G. Sawyer, and R.A. McDermott. “Can Preschool Improve Child Health Outcomes? A Systematic Review,” Social Science & Medicine 70, no. 9 (2010): 1423-40, doi:  10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.12.037
[6] Barbara A. Hale, Victoria Seitz, and Edward Zigler. “Health Services and Head Start: A Forgotten Formula,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 11, no. 4 (1990): 447-458, doi: 10.1016/0193-3973(90)90020-K
[7] A. J. Reynolds, D.L. Robertson, (2003). School-based Early Intervention and Later Child Maltreatment in the Chicago Longitudinal Study,” Child Development. 74, no. 1 (2003): 3-26
[8] Allison Friedman-Krauss & W. Steven Barnett. “Early Childhood Education: Pathways to Better Health” National Institute for Early Education Research, April, 2013, http://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/health20brief.pdf
[9] Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-quality Childcare.” AEI. Accessed July 17, 2018. http://www.aei.org/publication/ workforce-of-today-workforce-of-tomorrow-the-business-case-for-high-quality-childcare/
[10] Phillips, Deborah A., Mark W. Lipsey, Kenneth A. Dodge, Ron Haskins, Daphna Bassok, Margaret R. Burchinal, Greg C. Duncan, Mark Dynarski, Katherine A. Magnuson, and Christine Weiland. The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on pre-Kindergarten Effects. Brookings. Accessed July 17, 2018
[11] Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-high-quality Childcare.” AEI. Accessed July 17, 2018. http://www.aei.org/publication/ workforce-of-today-workforce-of-tomorrow-the-business-case-for-high-high-quality-childcare/
[12] Beck, Julia. “How Some Companies Are Making Child Care Less Stressful for Their Employees.” Harvard Business Review. July 19, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2018. https://hbr.org/2017/04/how-some-companies-are-making-child-care-less-stressful-for-their-employees

“Additional funding would increase access for children and enable children on waiting lists to receive the services needed, which will ensure they’re adequately prepared for kindergarten.”
— Deidre Anderson, Executive Director of St. Mark Child and Family Development Center



    • 3/8% sales tax generates approximately $30 million annually
  • Ten year sunset
  • Initiative petition for April 2019 ballot


    • Pre-K instruction of four-year-olds (Tuition)
    • Improvements to early childhood centers
  • Investments in early childhood workforce

Vision: High-quality, affordable pre-K is available to all Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO) children the academic year prior to entering Kindergarten.

Mission: The KC Pre-K Program will assist families with the cost of high-quality pre-K and invest in pre-K providers to increase system-wide capacity and quality.

Values: Each of the KC Pre-K Program’s objectives, action steps, and measurable outcomes are tied to the values of High Quality, Affordability, and Accessibility— evaluated through the lens of Equity (Figure 4).

Figure 2. KC pre-K (Equity) Value Convex Lens

KC pre-K Program values are as follows:

  • Affordability and Accessibility: All KCMO children have the opportunity to attend high-quality pre-K without geographical, financial, or other identified barriers.
  • Equity: Race, ethnicity, and family income are not predictors of Kindergarten readiness.
  • High Quality: KCMO children receive attentive instruction that provides developmentally appropriate opportunities, in an intentionally planned space, to grow cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically.

The historical achievement gap of students of color who live in underserved communities has been built by persistent oppression and bias within institutional structures, policies, and practices. The unequal outcomes illustrated yearly in state annual performance ratings is a systemic challenge this plan directly aims to address. The KC Pre-K Program is committed to increasing opportunities for all KCMO children to attend high-quality pre-K that cultivates their development. The goal is that all students are prepared to succeed in school and in life. The program will make data-driven decisions and respond to community accountability partners who uncover bias and encourage equity and inclusion in decision making. These actions will break through systems of inequity, which currently exist in Early Childhood Education systems. When fully installed, this student-centered KC Pre-K Program will champion equitable learning that addresses the needs of all students, no matter race, family income or KCMO zip code.

“For years, civic and business leaders have said, ‘This is not the right time for a new tax for children. They say there are more important issues we must fund.’ As I look back at our past city administrations, I agree that there were other important issues brought to our voters to approve, and approve they did. But now, it is time to build and invest in human capital: our young children.”
— Jim Caccamo, Former Director of The Metropolitan Council on Early Learning at The Mid-America Regional Council


“Having the opportunity to see the effects of a quality pre-K program, both from the pre-K and the Kindergarten [teacher] perspectives, children that attend pre-K are more prepared when entering Kindergarten; which makes for not only a successful Kindergarten year, but a successful school career.”
— Latrecia Thornton, Kindergarten Paraprofessional, Crossroads Schools of KC


We’re excited you’re interested in the Pre-K for KC Plan, here are a few ways you can ask questions and provide feedback:

  • Ask your questions on our page on KC Momentum page: ASK YOUR QUESTION HERE
  • Volunteer to attend a focus group for providers or parents: VOLUNTEER HERE
  • Join us for a Town Hall meeting: SEE SCHEDULE BELOW


View the Town Hall presentation here.

2/5 6-7 p.m. Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce – Board Room
3/6 6-7 p.m. Avila University – Whitfield Center
3/21 6-7 p.m. Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church
3/25 6-7 p.m. Platte County Resource Center

No registration is required. First come, first serve seating.