Early-childhood tax to appear on fall ballot | VailDaily.com

Early-childhood tax to appear on fall ballot

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily/Bret HartmanPreschool teacher Cass Galloway plays songs for her students at the Poo Corner Preschool in Minturn.

EAGLE ” Write it up and put it on the ballot.

Acting on the results of a positive public opinion survey and the comments of people involved in local preschools and day-care centers, the Eagle County Commissioners Tuesday voted to put a tax hike proposal on the fall ballot. If approved, the tax increase would raise $2 to $3 million per year for projects aimed at “early childhood,” or kids between birth and six years old.

“We’re now a county of families, and it’s time we provide a strong foundation for families to thrive,” said Jane West, who runs Heart of the West counseling.

Paller and other tax supporters were out in force Tuesday to lobby commissioners Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi to put the question to county voters. Commissioner Tom Stone, who has opposed the idea of a tax increase, was absent.

The support from those involved in child care was expected. A survey of likely county voters indicates that half of them either strongly support, or would probably support, a tax increase to pay for early childhood care.

That survey, which cost $9,000, was conducted by Venturoni Surveys and Research, a Summit County-based company.

Survey-takers interviewed 400 registered voters between July 10 and 17. People who took the survey were asked about their support of a tax increase at two levels, one that would raise $2 million per year, and one that would raise $3 million per year.

Slightly more than half of those who took the survey supported the tax increase at the

lower amount. Slightly less than half supported the $3 million tax increase.

The survey is part of a broader effort to determine just what the county’s families face in looking for child care.

That study found, among other things, that a quarter of county’s households have no health insurance. The study also found that there are nearly three times as many kids between six weeks and six years of age as licensed child care spaces.

The Eagle County tax question follows on the heels of a similar ballot issue that passed last year in Summit County. Other governments around the state are also looking into finding money for early-childhood services.

That drive is based on data that indicates that kids in preschools start school more ready to learn and less likely to make trouble.

“The number of at-risk kids is going up,” said Beth O’Reilly, who interviews families to try to find programs for kids in need. “We’re seeing more kids coming to school not ready to learn. Kids are coming in without the proper language skills, in Spanish or English.

With licensed day care center spots at a premium, more parents are using unlicensed day care, said Lee Martin of the Kids First program in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“With so many parents using unlicensed care, we’ll have a health and safety issue,” Martin said. “This is like a dangerous intersection.”

Bertha Campbell retired to Eagle County after a career with the New York state government. In fact, she was at the White House for the ceremony when President Lyndon Johnson signed the first Head Start bill into law.

“House cleaners make more than preschool teachers,” Campbell said. “It’s time to put our money where our mouths are.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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