Skip to content

Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James: Early childhood education as a tool for economic development

Education is necessary for individual economic achievement. Failings in the education system directly result in economic exclusion, particularly for already vulnerable populations. The former Mayor of Kansas City, Sly James, made education a focus of his administration often argued for early childhood education would have positive impact on economic outcomes for the community as a whole. James gathered local leaders to discuss how other communities implemented early childhood education and connected it to economic growth.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James Part 1: Someone has to Standup for the Kids” | 4:58

Sly James: Hello, everybody. I’m Sly James, and I’ll be your host today for the latest installment of the Kauffman Mayors Council Virtual Round Tables. I’m the former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, and our topic today is education as an economic development tool, in particular early childhood education. We are fortunate today to have a panel of three exceptional people. I happen to know Mayor Christopher Cabaldon from West Sacramento for a long time. I consider him a friend, a bowtie buddy but also a person for whom I have a great deal of respect for his position on early childhood education and childhood education in general.

Another person, Miss Paula Neth the president and CEO of The Family Conservancy here in Kansas City, Kansas. An organization that has devoted time, effort, resources to research and convening on issues related to building solid families, but primarily to building solid families by making sure that our children are well taken care of, well educated and that parents happen to know something about the brain development that every child goes through.

Last and certainly not least, the honorable and very good Mayor (James) Kenney from Philadelphia. Mayor Kenney and I have had the pleasure to work together. I think the last saw him was either in D.C. or New York. Mayor, I’m not exactly sure where, but the good thing about it is that I’ve had the pleasure to have personal contact and working relationships with all three of these folks. I can tell you right off the bat that they are all top-drawer. I’m here on behalf of the Kauffman Mayors’ Council. The Kauffman Mayors’ Council is a group of four mayors, former mayors I should say, who are there to help promote Kauffman’s philanthropic goals of building leadership, building educational infrastructure in cities, building entrepreneurial infrastructure in cities and to make sure that they are using their largess and their mission in order to enhance the lives of cities not just in their area but around this entire country and the world.

The four-person Mayors’ Council is an outgrowth of Kauffman’s long-standing work with municipal leaders across the entire country. In fact, we had our Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship here virtually and this past September, and the council was created to harness the knowledge and experience of former mayors as they left office in order to help support Kauffman’s mission. The group consists of RJ Berry, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and then Mark Stodola in Little Rock, Arkansas, and myself. We are each hosting our own virtual roundtables on subjects of interest to us, things that we championed and worked on and promoted during our tenure as mayors. I want to get right to it. Mayors, we all have this conversation about infrastructure and that conversation takes place in particular in this time of the year around this time of life around presidential elections where we’re talking about infrastructure and the needs of building infrastructure.

However, our conversations about infrastructure seldom talk about human infrastructure. The infrastructure needed to build strong cities, strong workforces. That’s where we come in because we know that like a lot of streets and roads in our cities and areas and communities you can’t just repave over the same old road. Sometimes you have to dig down and rebuild the road. That’s what we’re here to talk about. How do we rebuild the road of education and childhood education? Childcare in such a way that we’re promoting families, that we are promoting education as an economic development tool and building the human infrastructure necessary to succeed as we move further and further down the highway of technology towards an increasingly technological world. I know that everybody’s had slightly different approaches to this. Mayor Kenney, you passed a 1.5 cent-per-ounce soda tax in 2016. I know it was exceptionally controversial. You got a ton of pushback on it but you were the largest city to get that done after dozens of others were unsuccessful. The proceeds were used to fund prekindergarten classes, pre-K classes. Tell us about how that got started briefly, if you could, as well as report on what’s happened since then. How are things going as a result of that? What can you show? What have you been able to measure?

Mayor Jim Kenney: Thanks, mayor. It’s nice to see you again, and it was Washington D.C., and I miss you guys. It’s nice to get together with the mayors every now and then. We haven’t been able to in about a year now. It’s been tough. The biggest problem facing Philadelphia and many cities in our country is poverty. It is the genesis of all the problems that we face in violence, addiction, disfunction, you name it. The things that we’re throwing money at every day is a result of the fact that we have too many poor people in our city. They’re poor because they have not had adequate educational opportunity, solid educational opportunity to make sure they have the skills necessary to be employed gainfully and to provide for their children and for their families and for their neighborhood. We had to start at the beginning. We funded education on elementary and high school level over the past five years to the tune of a billion new dollars that were taken out of originally taken out by a Republican governor back, I guess, eight years ago and decided that if we started to look at how children need to be educated, and they need to be educated from the time they’re born until the time we all pass away.

We decided to take three- and four-year-old children and to get them in a quality pre-K program. Obviously, the problem with everything we try to do good is paying for it. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, despite Governor Wolf’s valiant efforts, we have two houses of the Legislature that are (under) Republican control, and it’s a shame in Pennsylvania and in the United States where leaders believe that education is some kind of luxury that only people who can afford it can have, as opposed to a necessity that allows our country to move forward together and to be even stronger than we are by bringing everyone along. We decide that the beverage tax, sweetened beverage tax was the way to go. We believed that it is a progressive tax because you don’t have to buy soda and soda really isn’t good for you anyways, so we didn’t approach it as the Nutter administration did through health aspects, we approached it by taking the money that revenue raised by the soda tax and putting it into specific projects that people could understand.

Pre-K program, people get that. We also used the money for rebuilding our infrastructure in parks, recreation centers and libraries and people understood that. It was a struggle. Soda companies… Big Soda is like Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. They got a lot of money, and they like to twist the issue on television and in ads, and we had really an uphill battle. They hired every lobbyist they could write a check to, including some of my friends that were formally in City Council and other places who were asking me if I’d be mad if they’d lobby for the soda company. I said, “No, because if they’re paying you monthly, they’re putting less stuff on television, so go ahead and work for them.” We had a legion of unpaid lobbyists. We had pre-K moms, we had parks advocates, we had library advocates, and we just overwhelmed them in the public, and they lost.

Then they set out, and they sued us. We started collecting the beverage tax. They filed a lawsuit in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, the county court, and worked its way through the (state) Supreme Court. It took about two years for us to finally win at the (Pennsylvania) Supreme Court level and through the whole time they were suing us they were also complaining we weren’t spending the money that we were collecting because we were waiting to see how the court case came out because, if we had lost, we would’ve had to send all that money back. They were using their cudgel of a lawsuit to beat us up for not spending the money on what we said we were going to spend it on.

Finally, we emerged from the tunnel. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld our position, and we moved forward. We’ve had about 6,000 plus kids, children, beautiful babies through a quality pre-K program. The pre-Kss in our city are generally run by in the neighborhoods, in specific neighborhoods, many by women, most by women of color, so we were bolstering their businesses in the community. They were hiring pre-K teachers from the neighborhood and we’ve been helping them raise their level of production, raise their level of quality along with getting our kids through the program. We continue struggling with the commonwealth and with the federal government in trying to get adequate revenue for our schools. COVID has knocked us all for a loop as you can imagine. Philadelphia had the highest fund balance in our city’s history. We had money set aside for a rainy day, we had money set aside for labor contracts and within two months all that money, $750 million was gone, and our revenue streams were dried up, and we’re facing a $650 million problem over five years at the school district starting next year. We’re hanging on, we’re doing our best but the liquor… Not the liquor tax, the beverage tax has raised about $200 million so far and our numbers certainly fell off during the course of the pandemic, but it’s starting to get back to normal and we’re confident that we can continue keeping that level of revenue coming in.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James Part 2: What is at Stake and Lessons Learned from Failure” | 5:53

James: Paula, you know before I left office you and I had the opportunity to work together on trying to get a 3/8 cents sales tax passed here in Kansas City, so that we could provide quality pre-K education, and we were only looking to provide five-year-olds. Mayor Kenney’s doing it the right way, reaching down to three- and four-year-olds. I don’t want to leave out the concept of quality childcare as an educational tool as well. I think that we sometimes focus on pre-K as some sort of a panacea, but really, the entire issue from zero to five is absolutely critical.

It may have been you or somebody else that said that the mistakes that we make in the first five years of a child’s life are the ones that we spend the next 75 trying to correct. All of this is tied together. I know that you and Christopher and Mayor Kenney, you all understand that. Paula, as you recall, that we were unsuccessful here in Kansas City, but I also remember that when Colorado started its trek, Denver particularly started its trek towards quality pre-K and then has now expanded it down to four-year-olds, I believe, they were unsuccessful too. Tell us a little bit about why you think it’s important for us to be focused on this based on your angle and perspective as a researcher, coordinator (and) convener.

Paula Neth: Sure. Thank you, Mayor James, and thank you to both of the mayors who I just really admire that this takes a lot of grit and a lot of willpower to push these kinds of policies through at the local level, but I have to say that the whole title of this session today is early childhood education as an economic tool. Couldn’t be more relevant because I think as a country we’re really realizing as this pandemic has swept across our cities that we don’t have strong childhood infrastructure in our communities it’s going to really be hard for our working families to get back into the workforce, and thus, it’s going to hinder our economic recovery. I think that what I’ve observed and seen is that we really are starting to see the political and policy relevance of early care in education and it’s expanded funding on the rise. More people are starting to understand the importance of those first five years in a child’s life, and how that can then help them succeed and thrive when they get into the K-12 system. Like you said, we miss these first years, then we’re catching up later and trying to get them caught up in their development.

I think that a lot of communities, you talk about the importance of those first five years, but I think a lot of cities decide to start with pre-K as their first step in looking how they can generate funding streams to support pre-K and as Mayor Kenney was sharing with us, one of the ways is with what they call a syntax. Using that as one of the proponents to help them raise funding for the expansion of pre-K but I think for any community that’s looking to expand their pre-K program they really need to focus on who pays and how early in that process. That’s where you need to really understand your local community and what’s available to you based on state and local regulations.

One of the things that I liked about what Philadelphia’s doing is that they’re really looking at… Because I don’t think there’s just one funding stream that can support this work. You really need to look across your early care and education community and build off of federal, state and local government funding and use these dollars to help supplement and not supplant existing revenue streams and also leverage private dollars, if you can. What cities need to think about when they’re starting these kinds of initiatives are what are the ways that we could possibly support some kind of dedicated funding stream to support our three- and… four-year-olds and possibly our three-year-olds. What I’ve seen come across is there’s a lot of use of sales tax, commercial and private property tax and set-asides something new that’s kind of come up in the last five years are social impact bonds and then sin taxes on tobacco, marijuana, vaping and alcohol and taxes used on sweetened beverages.

I think the social impact bonds is a really interesting new way that people are looking at funding their early care and education system because these are experimenting paper performance models, and so I know Salt Lake has been experimenting with a paper performance model where Goldman Sachs rented an initial investment of money to be repaid as the program began to produce successful outcomes for participants. That might be something that a community might want to look into as a pay performance model.

Sales tax may be the only way some of our communities can afford to successfully raise enough money but those, as we heard from the mayor, come with some challenges, right? Mayor James, you know that it’s really challenging for sales tax because they require a majority vote of the population to really create support. That’s another way. I know that those kinds of measures, though I think, call for a charismatic leader who can really often be the one that’s being the champion of that, and so I’m sure Mayor Kinney and you Mayor James were playing that role in our community. I think that these kinds of initiatives need to be thought out and strategically with local community partners. I can’t say enough about making sure as you’re starting these initiatives that you include an array of stakeholders and that would be not only your business community and civic leaders but also your early care and education partners in the community as well as your local school districts.

For me, the models that have been most successful are those that build on the local capacity in their community and use those small businesses that already exist and oftentimes when we invest in the three- and four-year-olds in those community programs we see benefits for the infants and toddlers and two- year-olds that also are participating in those community-based programs. We also see that parents like having childcare and early care and education programs that are convenient and so we have more participation if those programs are based in their local community.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James Part 3: How to Navigate the System” | 5:07

James: Since 2006, is that right Christopher, you had a pre-K program in West Sacramento. You have had it longer than at least in an organized fashion it appears, longer than Mayor Kenney in Philly in the way that you’ve approached it. Certainly we don’t have it at all in Kansas City. You may have been on par with Denver but you seem to be one of these pioneers. Maybe it’s because of your youthful advantage and nimble mind and incomparable style, but you were able to get it done. How were you able to get it done, and since it’s been done, what difference has it made?

Mayor Chris Cabaldon: Yeah, thanks Mayor James. Just to concur with everything has been said by my colleagues on the panel as well. This was not on our radar screen in 2004 and 2003. It wasn’t and still isn’t for many cities. I think it’s very important, especially for our partners to remember that inside City Hall, it’s not just about our charisma and our leadership or the research or the supporters, you also have to take account of why would the system resist doing this? Sometimes it’s folks in black hats, it’s the soda industry or the tobacco companies or whatever, but it’s also just as much folks who are in other departments in the city. The firefighters’ union is like, “No, if there’s any money on the table, it should go to the fire department.” Folks are like, “Hey, if you’ve got $10 in the couch. There’s that pothole over on Broadway and 5th that needs to get fixed. In some sense the biggest opposition is not the showy opposition at the end, when you’re in the middle of the battle, it is in the setup that this entirely new area that’s not in the state law that we’re supposed to do this, it’s not part of our mission statement.

For us, the school district handles kids and the county handles health. We don’t do either of those things. You got to make the case internally, why should the city be in this? The other thing I think we recognized early on was that this has been something I’ve learned the hard way many, many times is to not over plan. Not over strategize because it is scary to folks, and so this is where we were very careful. I still am today to not talk about this is the first step to dealing with everything from zero to five because nothing gets the firefighter’s union and the pothole people madder than a declaration that this is just the beginning. We’re about to go spend another $5 billion on this later, so part of what looks like strong leadership by mayors’ offices, is often very careful management of expectations because those expectations drive politics. Our story was I saw a bunch of other mayors in California, big cities, San Jose and Los Angeles in particular, in about 2005 saying, “Hey, we’re going to do universal preschool.” They didn’t have a plan, they didn’t know how.

I thought, “Wow, that’s so dreamy. I’d love to do that but my city’s 55,000 people. We can’t even think like that.” Then Rob Reiner, the actor/producer/director, sponsored a ballot measure in California that imposed a tobacco tax for kids, basically, and for health. They came up with a statewide preschool program based on these big cities. I thought, “Well, what if we could convince them to try one small city along the way?” The idea and the funding came at the same moment. The funding presented an opportunity to break through. The state said, “Yeah, we want you to be our guinea pig and our pilot and our model for how small cities could pull this off.” We got a grant in order to launch. We had no idea how we were going to fund this sustainably over the long run. We thought we just need to get in there because we have such low achievement rates, our school district is not respected in the community, and they will say it’s because kids are not arriving at kindergarten ready to learn. It’s critical importance. We have this funding source, I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it three years from now, let’s go.

This is sort of every day at City Hall for many of us. Let’s go, we’ll figure that out later. Once we make the case. Once we show people the benefits, once we show people it’s not so scary, once we show people we’re not going to close down the swimming pool and the fire station in order to do this. Over time we were able to divert up five cents out of the accounts to the program there and we found another grant over here, another one over there over many, many years. When our annual garbage contract came up we insisted that the garbage contractor make a contribution to preschool for the first time ever and in exchange we agreed to do a sustainability curriculum in the preschool.

You put it together over time waiting for your moment. Our moment came actually 10 years later. We had a statewide, quarter-cent, sales tax which was set to expire, but the state never lets taxes expire, so we were all just waiting for them to renew their sales tax. They didn’t do it. At the last second, they did not renew their sales tax. The idea popped in my head was, “Okay. What if we just went to our voters and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to raise your taxes, it’s just the money that you’re… The quarter-cent that you’re currently paying to the state, it’s going to stay home and we’re going to use it for roads and homelessness and kids. Including preschool.’” We just found the moment. We were ready because we already had a program. We already had a concept. There’s no way we could’ve invented this in one week, but there was a way in one week to radically shift the funding structure. The voters passed that sales tax overwhelmingly, and so now we have a sustainable source of funding to support high-quality preschool and other forms of early learning throughout the city.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James Part 4: Why Early Education is Worth the Fight” | 4:10

James: What is the return on investment? Why should people care? Let’s talk about it and share some ideas because for the folks out here that may watch this video later or want to know what’s going on, they’re going to have to make the same arguments that we’re talking about, and they’re going to have to show to the people that are making the argument too, here’s why you should do it. So, tell them why they should do it. Mayor Kenney, Mayor Cabaldon?

Mayor Kenney: Let me give you an anecdote that… These things happen occasionally in our lives where you’ve done something, you don’t know how it’s affected people, and then you run into somebody who just reinspires you to continue to try to do progressive things. Ran into a woman in the street. She stopped me, she says, “Mayor, I want to thank you for the pre-K program.” I said, “Oh, that’s wonderful.” She said, “I have two children. They’re both in the quality pre-K program. It’s not costing us anything,” and she said, “One of the benefits of this program in addition to my children doing better in school is that I don’t have to stay home now. I had to stay home before.” She said, “I just got a job as a bus driver for the transit company in Philadelphia,” and she said, “Our total lives have changed because my husband works hard, I stayed home, couldn’t earn an income. Had to take care of the kids. The kids are now getting quality pre-K education, and I’m driving a bus making a good living.” She said, “Our lives have changed.” There are lots of folks throughout and we want to really to expand this program.

As I told you earlier, we got stuck in lawsuits, so we lost two years of being able to do this, but, and the other thing that I’ve found in neighborhoods within our city, some struggling neighborhoods where there are-K programs those business people have been able to take in more children because it’s subsidized, have been able to hire more people who are now getting their educational certificates and the like. They’ve been able to improve their property, improve the quality of pre-K environment, and it’s just… Look, as I said earlier, the thing I don’t understand about this country is that this country as a whole doesn’t understand that education is the key to success, period. It’s what has people down, lack of education and what has raised people up when they have an education. Even Communist countries, totalitarian countries like China, understand that STEM and education is important, so they build these huge universities and let people go for free.

We have enough capacity in our country to make education free for everybody, that the government would pay for it and community colleges, state colleges, universities should be a no cost to the people who live there. I think we have the capacity to do that, we just don’t do it. I think a lot of this, sad to say is, when I have a Republican legislature in Pennsylvania that refuses to live up to their responsibilities to adequately fund education has a lot to do, in my mind, with race. I’m convinced that that is the reason that they don’t want to fund Philadelphia schools because the predominant number of children who go to our schools are children of color. I think that’s the underlying subtext. It’s we don’t want to see people rise up and do well and become contributing members.

If you think about it, if every one of our kids got a quality education, what a different country this would be. We wouldn’t have the crime issues, we wouldn’t have the violence that we have. We would have people paying taxes and producing and contributing to our culture. It’s sad that Americans or too many Americans don’t get it.

James: Mayor, first of all you need to cleanse yourself of those Socialist ideas about the government paying for things that are necessary because that could get you branded in the wrong way.

Mayor Kenney: What, like Social Security? I had a guy, older white guy said to me one time, “Obama’s a Socialist.” I said, “You know that check you get every month in the mail?” I said, “Do you turn that back in? Do you refund that money?” “No, I earned that.” I said, “No, you earned some of it, but the rest of this is supplementing that and your Medicare, your healthcare, so don’t talk about Socialism unless you’re willing to go it on your own.”

James: Bingo. You know that’s really interesting, and your points about education are well founded and absolutely true. There’s another part. There are plenty of communities who will tell you anecdotally that their economies are being hurt by the inability to find workers to fill the jobs that are necessary, it’s holding business back, etc. They will also, if they’re honest, will tell you that a lot of the reason for that is that women are being artificially held out of the workforce, and let’s face it. If there’s an option between a man going to work and a woman going to work and somebody staying home with the kids, I would say the vast, vast majority of times, it’s the female mom that’s staying home with the kid, and the guy goes off to work. If we have quality child care, quality pre-K such that women are able to pursue their dreams and goals of a career just like men, the workforce takes on a totally different hue.

There’s even a more important part, and that is if we want to see people come out of college well-educated in a traditional and technological way. It’s like building anything else. Garbage in, garbage out. I don’t mean to say that, but if you have situations where kids are not being well-trained, well-educated, well-cared-for in those first five years, that’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives and what the end product is. Paula, you know about that, and Christopher, you know about that. What do you have to say about what Mayor Kenney brought forth?

Mayor Cabaldon: I 100% agree no matter what term you throw at me. Totally agree with Mayor Kenney. In terms of outcome measures, because we’ve been at this for a while, within a couple of years, we were showing that kids coming from households where English is not the language spoken, that the gap in the word count, their ability to use English and what have you, had completely closed because of preschool. It wasn’t we had an effect or whatever, it completely closed that gap entering kindergarten. No other intervention that we had ever tried or schools had ever tried had even come close. We see in terms there’s the equity of the push. Now, one thing, and I know we’ll talk about this later but we also learned that it’s not all by itself it’s not enough that a lot of the narrowing started to rewiden again six, seven, eight years later as they went downstream into sixth grade and seventh grade. Preschool is not… It’s a vaccine but it needs a booster at several points along the way. That’s one of the indications.

The other is that I hear a lot less from businesses that they don’t want to locate here because of our education system. Our education system has also improved but it’s not just that, it’s also that preschool is a very visible, loud way of saying that we value learning, that we’re paying attention to the science, that this is a good place for you to locate your company and your executives and your workers will want to be here. I guess, related to that, is one of the things that used to always break my heart was, because our school district didn’t have the best achievement numbers in the region, that I would often hear from parents who would say, “Mayor, I love this city. I love everything about it. Little League is great, I’m a soccer coach, my son’s a cantor at the church. I’m embedded in this community and it breaks my heart because I think we’re going to have to move to two cities over to the cities that have better school districts because my youngest is about to turn five and we need a school district where she’s going to succeed.”

Or, “My son’s in middle school and he’s about to go to high school, and I just can’t imagine him going to this high school that we have here in West Sacramento so we’re going to move.” Yeah, they care about the achievement numbers, but it’s much more fundamental about that. The people that we represented as mayors, the anguish that they go through, and even if they stay, they’re just constantly going through their day in my city… “Did I make the right choice for my child? Am a good parent? Am I a good person?” It would lose high-quality, contributing members of our community to other places, and those who stayed would often feel bad about themselves and their choices. Although that’s not college admission rates, it’s not ER admission rates or whatever, it’s not as quantifiable. It’s so important and when folks say, “That’s the school district’s job not the city’s job,” this is the kind of thing I respond to. But our mental health and our sense of common purpose and our economy is the city’s job. We are definitely seeing the result from preschool both in terms of kids readiness but also in terms of a sense that yeah, this is a good place to grow up, it’s a good place to raise a family, and there’s really nothing more important for a mayor and for a city.

Mayor Kenney: We generally fund our schools with real estate taxes. I tried to raise real estate taxes in my first term, and council rejected it, and we may have to look at some form of revenue enhancement in the second term because of what happened with COVID. I had people tell me that, “If you raise my real estate taxes, I’m going to move. I’m going to move to the suburbs.” I said, “Well, good luck because your real estate taxes are going to be five times what they are in the city.”

James: There you go.

Mayor Kenney: They’re five times what they are in the city because they have good schools. The connection is not made between what you pay for and what you get. I know there’s been all kinds of things. We’re in a difficult situation in Philadelphia because the Commonwealth controls our ability to raise revenue. We can’t do anything until we get an [inaudible 00:37:38] legislation from the Commonwealth that says we can raise the tax with the exception of the sweetened beverage tax, which was the argument through the court, but we didn’t have the authority to do it and the court contended we did. Everything else we have to go to this Commonwealth and get permission. When you have a Republican-controlled legislature it’s hard to get that permission. What I can’t get through to people is, is that as you said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” No money in, you’re not getting any return. The people who, as the mayor said, the people who leave go to communities with generally higher tax rates. Can’t you make the connection that if we funded our schools ourselves, we would have a good product and you wouldn’t have to move?

James: You know, it’s kind of interesting, too, from the standpoint of the tax base that when your school funding is primarily based on the property tax mills that the property taxes in the minority poor parts of town do not generate the same amount of revenue as they do in other parts of the town, so we are perpetually in that situation of perpetually promoting and solidifying poverty in those communities by making sure that the educational resources that they have are secondary to the ones in the more affluent parts of town. This was not done by accident, and I commend you to “The Color of Law” by  (Richard) Rothstein, who talks about the real estate issues and how that affected property, housing and education in this country on a race-based basis. Paula, you have been involved in an organization that’s done tons of research on these issues, convened conversations about it all over the country. What does your research tell us that we haven’t talked about so far?

Neth: Well, if I had a magic wand and could be in charge of everything, I think what I would really push for is us to really look at our total education system and use the brain science and really create a birth-to-third-grade (model) as our educational system because I think what we know by the science is those first five years are so critical for future success. That’s where we need to be putting our investment, and I know that we do need to have a booster, but I think if we could really focus our education system on birth to third grade, we would really set children on a successful trajectory for the future. We just need to do an overhaul and rethink our education system on a whole. I know it really does make a difference in communities. I know when I was working at Google for four years as a family project manager, when we would have employees in certain cities looking for resources around education and for early care in education, sometimes we had a hard time getting some of our employees wanting to transfer to the cities because of the quality of those systems.

I think I’m hearing more and more local communities talking about this as an important issue in their infrastructure just the same as roads. If a bridge breaks in a city and people can’t get to work, what does everybody do? They rush, and they put all their resources there to fix that bridge so that people can get into the workforce. We’re starting to see childcare as the same thing in our early education system during this pandemic. If our childcare providers aren’t open, people can’t get back into work, and that’s really going to slow down our economy’s recovery.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James Part 5: How to Build off of Success for Systems Change” | 4:37

James: Christopher, you know about the booster situation and reforming the educational process to some extent because of Home Run Initiative that you have. What’s that about?

Mayor Cabaldon: Yeah, our success on preschool as a scrappy, little city kind of got us thinking, well what else could we do? Also, I should say my failures, I tried to deal with our local school board elections, and that was just a hot mess like a lot of mayors get involved in. I realized trying to from the mayor’s office to fix the challenges of achievement directly in the schools was beyond my pay grade. The institution needed to find its own path. What could we do outside of the classroom? Preschool was a great… I thought, “Well preschool’s working because it’s not something that the school is already doing. We’re doing something in addition to that outside of the day of the class.” Today they’re doing transitional kindergarten and other approaches that are much more aligned, but at the beginning, they were not.

I started to build up this concept of doing other things outside of the classroom. We launched a paid internship program, a small one in the city for high school students working in career pathways. Then several of us, and you Mayor James, were a big part of this as well, partnered up with President Obama on (America’s)  College Promise and I said. “Someday, I want to provide free community college in our city as well. I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it, but that’s our North Star. We’re going to head towards that.” We put these ideas together and then that sales tax opportunity came that I mentioned in 2016 as a result of the state’s decision not to renew their tax. By that point we were ready. I had a plan already. We went to the voters and said, “We are going to do the home run. We’re the home of the AAA minor league baseball franchise for the region so everything’s baseball here. We constructed a home run where first base was that early childhood period. First base was going to be high-quality preschool and college savings accounts for every entry in kindergarten.

Second base is going to be digital badges and paid internships for every high school student that’s in a college and career pathway. Third base going to be free community college and a scholarship. Then home is when you come back home to West Sacramento after your education and you contribute and you participate in the community. All those things importantly are outside of the school. I didn’t need to get agreement from the district or the teachers union didn’t have to sign on, the business community didn’t have to necessarily sign. We’re just going to do it all and we’re going to connect them all. You get a scholarship going to college but five points on that scholarship are based on did you go to preschool when you were four years old? We’re trying to send the messages to parents that it’s all connected.

Our plan is we’re giving parents a stork basket when they come home from the hospital. Here’s your preschool admission card, here’s the certificate for your college savings fund. Here’s your baby’s college ID card to try to send this [inaudible] that signal. This year, as a result of the pandemic, we said, “Can we do one more thing?” I’ve always struggled with look, if you go from sixth grade to seventh grade, even though it’s elementary school to middle school, you just go. You don’t apply to seventh grade. You don’t send off an application form and then sit at home and hope that it turns out okay, you just go. We know as mayors that every single young person in our communities needs some form of postsecondary education. Doesn’t mean a university degree. It might be an apprenticeship, might be the military, might be something but they need something after high school in order to have the full opportunities that they need.

We said, “What if we just made it just as easy, so this year, as a result of the pandemic, we sent an admission letter to every single graduating high school senior. Congratulations you are admitted to the local community college, and you are going to go for free because of our college promise, and we’re going to give you a $200 scholarship and be sure to tell your parents that if you have any babies on the way that they should go to preschool in order to get an even bigger scholarship later. We’re trying to make that transition from high school to college as simple as possible. Now, that sounds really expensive, but it wasn’t because actually under law we’re all in California we can all go to community college. You don’t need to apply. You don’t need to be admitted in the first place. We just took all the paperwork out of the middle. We just transferred the data file, hit send from the high school to the college and now students are automatically admitted.

We didn’t have to worry about the cost of free tuition because most students, it turns out, don’t pay tuition anyway. The state has a very liberal program that waives tuition for everybody that’s receiving any form of welfare, anybody who gets a Pell Grant, so the gaps that we were closing – and this is a lesson we learned with preschool when we realized so many kids in our city are eligible for Head Start and other programs – they’re just not connecting to them.  We don’t have to come up with $5,000 for every child. For most of our children we just have to connect them to dollars that are already on the table for them.

By weaving together these pieces, we’re able to create something that is so big and so expensive and so profound that you can’t help but know about it in the city and in terms of creating that notion. West Sacramento, great place to grow up, a great place to raise a family, all those pieces together build on and reinforce the success of the other.