Education News

KUHF-KHOU Election Poll Finds Almost Half of Voters Would Have Supported Early Education Tax

This summer education advocates and business leaders tried to put an early education tax on the ballot in November. Their effort failed. But numbers from the KUHF-KHOU 11 News Election Poll show almost half of likely voters would have supported it.

It’s one of those questions we always ask ourselves in love, life and politics: What if?

In this case, what if the Early to Rise campaign had gotten its one penny tax increase for early education on the ballot?

“The good news for them is it was support for this. The bad news, of course, is they’re not on the ballot.”

That’s Bob Stein at Rice University. He conducted the poll. He found about 49 percent of likely voters said they would support it.

“When you tell people would you like to spend money on early childhood, particularly for training the parents and childcare providers skill sets that would help children get ready for first grade, you can probably get close to 50 percent. This would have been a real battle.”

Stein says 35 percent of voters said they opposed it. About 15 percent weren’t sure.

Jonathan Day with the Early to Rise campaign says those numbers are very encouraging.

“There’s no such thing as an inevitable election result. But surely the numbers confirm that the support is available and with strong public support and a strong campaign, we could have won this election.”

But there will be no election.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett refused to put the measure on the ballot.

“When this all came to me, you know, it kind of ties my stomach in a knot because I’m trying to sort all this out and you have people, you know, chewing on you from all sides. But at the end it became just a question of what does the law say.”

Emmett says the campaign was trying to use an outdated law to get it on the ballot.

But there’s another “what if” question.

What if the proposal actually passed?

“The significance of that probably can’t be overestimated.”

Bob Wimpelberg at the University of Houston says the tax would have been the first local, long-term funding for early education here.

Mitzi Bartlett and Katherine von Haefen
Mitzi Bartlett and Katherine von Haefen are both with the United Way Bright Beginnings program, which promotes high quality care and early education for low-income children. It’s the type of program that the Early to Rise program wanted to spread throughout Harris County with the proposed early education tax.

“An early start would have more kids ready to both graduate high school and complete. Ultimately it would affect our economy. There’s just no question about it.”

But it takes a long view to see that connection—how Houston’s future economy may be tied to the scene at a childhood center.

Toddlers are smearing blue paint on a yellow easel.

“That’s an interesting way to paint. Look at you!”

This is part of United Way Bright Beginnings.

The program manager Mitzi Bartlett says ten years of data show children who come here do better in school later on.

“We’re learning about consequences. We are learning so that when we go into the workplace, we can work well with others, we can problem solve and we know to try again. We’re all right if we make a mistake.”

She says it’s all right to try again.

And that is what early education advocates say they will do.

To see the results of the KUHF-KHOU 11 News Election Poll, visit


Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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