SF childcare providers, parents show support for funding measure

San Francisco early childhood educators and their supporters announced Thursday that they collected over 18,300 signatures in just two weeks to support a measure estimated to raise up to $150 million annually toward their wages and childcare services.

The measure, backed by Supervisors Norman Yee and Jane Kim, proposes to hike The City’s commercial gross receipts tax by 3.5 percent to pay for higher wages for educators, address a growing waitlist for childcare spaces and increase the quality of care in childcare institutions.

Although the supervisors previously placed a similar measure on the ballot, a signature drive was also launched in January to ensure success in the face of a dueling measure proposed by Supervisor Ahsha Safai that seeks to tap into the same revenue stream, as was previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

Safai’s measure proposes to fund affordable housing and homeless services and seeks a 1.7 percent gross receipts tax hike on office space rents.

Yee and Kim’s early care and education measure promises expanded eligibility for affordable services to more families, should San Francisco voters approve it in June.

Measures placed on the ballot by legislators require a two-thirds vote but those placed there by voter signatures only need to pass by 51 percent, according to Ivy Lee, Kim’s legislative aide.

“[We] wanted to see that if it didn’t get to the two-thirds, what can we do to make sure that this has the best chance of success,” said Lee.

Proponents of the childcare measure expect it to raise between $140 and $160 million annually, according Lee. Up to 85 percent of that revenue could be expended for specific uses, including clearing some 2,500 children off waitlists for childcare services, the vast majority of whom are under the age of three.

San Francisco’s commercial rents gross receipts tax is currently the lowest in the country, according to proponents of the measure. The proposed tax increase would come with certain exceptions, including for spaces occupied by government or arts organizations.

Another goal of the measure is to increase wages for the early childcare workforce, which are currently low enough to force many in the field to rely on public benefits.

In an effort to make child care services more affordable, a portion of the revenue would be allocated to provide subsidies for residents making up to 200 percent of AMI and to increase the salaries of early child care professionals by at least 10 percent, according to Yee.

“I’m hoping to push it to about 15 percent,” he said.

Addressing childcare providers, parents, educators and supporters of the effort at the San Francisco Public Library on Tuesday, Yee promised that 2018 would be a year of equity for childcare in terms of access and pay.

“We are always the second priority,” said Yee. “I am joining some of my colleagues to say no more — we are the first priority this year.”

But the onus of that decision will be placed on San Francisco voters come June.

“It came out of the blue,” said Lee about Safai’s measure, adding that Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who had planned to fund transit, also by increasing the commercial gross receipts tax, agreed to move his measure to the November ballot.

“There wasn’t enough time to sit down with [Safai] and negotiate … one big measure,” said Lee, calling the fact that both measures aim to address critical issues but are now pitted against each other “unfortunate.”

That language of Safai’s measure includes a provision that if both measures are approved, the one with the most votes would become law.

On Thursday, parents and educators who gathered in support of the early care and education measure said that the funding would make a difference the lives of many.

Recounting her family’s struggle to obtain quality child care brought June Lynn Kealoha- Hall, a mother of two and advocate for Parent Voices, to tears. Faced with tuition as high as $1,300 per month, she could barely make payments for both of her children.

“I believe that regardless of one’s socioeconomic background, you still have a right to quality care,” she said. “Every child deserves access and every parent deserves support.”

This story has been updated since its initial publication

Laura Waxmann

Laura Waxmann covers education and community news for the San Francisco Examiner. Reach her at (415) 359-2730 and lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com. Follow Laura on Twitter: @laura_waxee

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