(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on House Bill 19-1052 and the implementation of ‘early childhood development’ special taxing districts in Colorado. The first part is available here.)
Understanding the beliefs and strategy of those trying to advance government subsidized “universal affordable high-quality childcare” will help engaged citizens to fight the creation of Early Childhood Development Special Districts in Colorado. These special taxing districts were authorized by the Democrat-controlled Colorado legislature and Governor Polis earlier this year with the passage of House Bill 19-1052.
For over half a century, one of the Progressive ideas to combat inequality can best be described as “cradle to kindergarten.” Governor Polis is dedicated to this idea. In a TEDTalk™, he claimed that “We can’t afford to let any minds to go to waste…. Quality, zero through age four, education programs…we can really, we can come closer to ending poverty than anything I’ve seen.” Governor Polis has already accomplished a lot for older children. Any parent in Colorado can now send their five-year-old to a full day of government kindergarten. Polis has also expanded the government run Colorado Preschool Program. This will expand by over 8,000 “slots” for the next school year in addition to the almost 21,000 “slots” Colorado already pays for. These “slots” are filled by mostly four-year-old children, with a few three-year-old’s. Because of this, Polis still has some work to do to fulfill his promise for subsidized preschool for everyone. Since Polis isn’t alone in his belief that cradle to kindergarten is the key to ending poverty, there are many other organizations that will focus on the younger children. This is because their favorite researcher, economics professor James Heckman, emphatically states that “The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible…” That is why there will be a focus on subsidizing the “cradle” part of the agenda, also known as universal childcare.
While Hillary Clinton didn’t make this an issue of her campaign during the 2016 Presidential race, some political analysts believe that “Federally-funded universal child care is one of the most popular ideas on the [Progressive] Left right now.” As evidence of this, 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and at least four other candidates are working toward establishing a nationally socialized childcare system. After Elizabeth Warren introduced her $70 billion a year plan to Congress, she claimed: “We’ve moved the Overton window on how we think about taxes. And I think, I think we’re about to move it on child care.” Warren told the National Education Association that her plan would “pay for child care for every baby in this country…” and would be based off the U.S. military’s system which uses a sliding scale. One presidential candidate (and former Colorado Governor), John Hickenlooper, advocates for a national model that “would provide subsidies on a sliding scale” for childcare. These “sliding scale” proposals are most similar to what the Canadian province of Quebec already does.
Columnist Katha Pollitt argued recently in the New York Times that “In fact, I would put it ahead of free public college: It would help more people and do more to change society for the better.” The Center for American Progress argues: “The United States must prioritize the needs of millions of working families and take steps to keep mothers in the workforce through investing in policies to support access to affordable, quality child care.” If you look at the belief system of the Progressives, Polis does not stand out from the rest of them when it comes to a cradle to kindergarten program. In 2019 and beyond, this is an important part of their agenda nationwide.
The idea of “nationally funded, locally administered, comprehensive childcare” has been a progressive fantasy for decades. Even as far back as 1971, Richard Nixon vetoed the “Comprehensive Child Development Act” which would have created “subsidized [daycare tuition] depending on a family’s income.”
Since Nixon’s veto, Progressives have been unable to get to that point on a national comprehensive childcare system, even after 50 years of trying. Nancy Cohen provides insight into the current Progressive mindset as she writes in The New Republic, “here we are today , with no national solution to the absurd and at times, tragic, lack of safe, affordable, quality child care.” Why so little success? Americans over the age of 50 (who also happen to be most likely to vote) don’t think taxpayers should subsidize daycare. A Hill-HarrisX survey released in March found that 72% of voters age 50 and above thought daycare costs should be paid by parents. For respondents between the ages of 18 and 34, that number drops down to a paltry 29%. On the flip side, 37% of this younger age group believed that daycare should be completely tuition-free. But studies find that this younger group is the least likely of all age groups to vote, so politicians at the national level haven’t been willing to offend the older voting group that thinks government should stay out of daycare.
So, after 50 years, there has been little leftward political progress on this issue at a federal level. But now that Progressives are finally, at last, within inches of opening the door to fully taxpayer subsidized daycare, they have finally realized that they only needed to change their tactic from “nationally funded, locally administered” (1971) to “locally funded, locally administered” (2019). Whose backyard will Progressives try this new strategy in? Your backyard, Colorado.
This is where these Early Childhood Development Special [Tax] Districts come into play. Using these districts for subsidizing daycare and preschool allows decisions regarding the “cradle to kindergarten” agenda to be placed in the hands of a few local elites. They will now have a whole government bureaucracy dedicated to this agenda. These districts will be able to hold board of director elections when voters are less politically aware and don’t normally turnout for elections, i.e., in May. Individuals running for these elected positions could possibly be daycare owners themselves, or individuals with political aspirations. And unfortunately for the taxpayers, special districts provide little accountability as to how the money ends up being spent. An analysis by Andrew Marchesseault at the Independence Institute found that “According to Colorado state statute, the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is tasked with [Special] metro district oversight. However, in reality… they do not have the power to enforce compliance with Title 32 (the statute creating and regulating special districts), and in fact, no one does. In some cases, this has created a kind of regulatory Wild West, in which there is very little oversight, and the oversight that does exist is essentially toothless.” This means that, once created, these taxing districts for preschool and daycare subsidies would operate with only a pretense of accountability.
Hypothetically, allowing these special districts the wide latitude and freedom to operate how they see fit could be a recipe for success…or for wasting your taxes.
Here is where the strategy really matters, and where involved citizens can make the most impact. Starting August 2, local organizations in any Colorado county can begin to gather signatures from citizens to endorse the creation of one of these special district within their area of Colorado. With enough signatures, they can then present their plan to the local county commissioners with the hope that the plan will be approved to go onto the ballot for the next November election. The organizations that will work to create these plans will probably be either your local Early Childhood Council and or another private entity such as the Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition or the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County. Except for Archulta and Baca County, Early Childhood Councils can be found in every county of Colorado. These councils were authorized by the Colorado legislature in 2007, under the promise that they would work on developing a local Early Childhood System and infrastructure and would work towards consolidating and coordinating funding. These quasi-governmental councils will now be able to coordinate the creation of taxing districts in every county. They will likely present the debunked claims about how the taxpayer subsidy of daycare helps all children and that society will reap the benefits. But since the truth is very clearly the opposite, citizens who care about our children can step in at this point.
Through writing letters to the editor, speaking out at city council and county commissioner meetings, and eventually organizing issue committees to campaign against against these taxing districts, anyone can work to defeat these efforts. Our neighbors, teachers and voters need the truth so they can make an informed vote. When voters see the question to create these taxing districts on the ballot, supporters will try to frame the question as one of “early childhood education” and avoid any mention of daycare. This is because polls show that older Americans overwhelmingly don’t think it is government’s responsibility to pay for daycare. As Republican pollster Jim Hobart explained: “terming it as daycare may be rubbing people a little bit the wrong way in the polling question.”
The truth is that these tax districts will work to subsidize daycare, which will ultimately harm our teachers, children, families, and communities. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to expose these tax districts for what they are, advancing the Progressive agenda of “universal daycare”.
Karl Honegger is a board member of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers and a father of five.