Sheriff Garcia says there’s a clear connection between early childhood education and the number of inmates in the Harris County Jail.
“We have to decide as a society, do we want to spend money helping little kids start on the right path, or do we want to pay for putting them in these orange jumpsuits and in these shackles?”
He says paying a tax that’s meant to pay for training and assistance to pre-school programs and parents is much cheaper than paying to house jail inmates.
Garcia is talking about the Early to Rise campaign by nonprofit organization Citizens for School Readiness. The group says it has collected more than 140,000 signatures on a petition to put their proposal on the ballot for the election in November.
The campaign has stirred some controversy since Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has expressed his opposition to putting the measure on the ballot.
Although he is in favor of early childhood education, Emmett says he has several issues with this particular proposal. First of all, he says, education should be left to the state and school districts.
“Before we even get to the merits, there has to be a discussion of, ‘Is this a legal process?’ because this is a tax rate increase of massive proportions for a part of government that nobody even knows exists.”
The little-known Harris County Department of Education would collect the tax. Emmett says while the proposed 1-cent tax raise doesn’t sound like a lot, it would be a 150 percent increase compared to the current rate.
Emmett has asked the county attorney and the Texas attorney general for an opinion on if the law the organization says applies in this case is actually valid.
James Calaway, chairman of the Citizens for School Readiness board, says his group has excellent legal counsel.
“We have a consensus among them that we stand on excellent legal grounds, and we’re very hopeful of course that after the judge considers all factors that, you know, he’ll do what we expect that he will do, which is to put it on the ballot.”
Judge Emmett, on the other hand, says what the organization is trying to do is “the right thing the wrong way.”
Calaway says the group will present their signatures to the judge early next week.