JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The bumpy road for a ballot measure to fund early childhood educations programs just got a little bumpier.
The Missouri chapter of the National Education Association (MNEA) announced Wednesday that their members oppose the measure, sponsored by the Raise Your Hands for Kids (RYH4K) organization.
The proposed constitutional amendment would raise taxes on cigarettes to increase revenue specifically designed to fund early childhood education programs controlled by a new oversight committee called the Early Childhood Commission. Over 35,000 teachers and educators belong to the MNEA in the state, making it one of the largest education associations in Missouri.
Chapter President Charles Smith said the shortcomings of the legislation outweighed any benefit that the new constitutional amendment may provide.
MNEA’s chief concern with the petition pertains to the fact that public money could go towards private and religious schools, which is currently illegal under Article IX, Section 8 of the state constitution. The IP would add language to the constitution that makes the new language immune from that law.
Previously, the Missouri Association for Rural Education voiced similar concerns about the bill as well.
However, RYH4K Executive Director Linda Rallo noted that public-private partnerships were necessary to serve as many children and communities as possible, including in areas where public schools may not have the logistical, financial or physical ability to provide early childhood education services. She said private and faith-based institutions had worked with the public sector for years.
“This is nothing new,” Rallo said in a statement. “Our initiative would simply be providing much needed additional resources for programs currently serving the early childhood community, including those services already provided by private and faith-based organizations.”
She also stressed that the U.S. Constitution forbade public funding for religious instruction.
“We are saddened that MNEA has failed to see that to provide needed growth in access to early childhood development,” she said.
Smith also has concerns about the prominent role of non-educators on the Early Childhood Commission, the lack of oversight and quality control over thousands of preschool classrooms, and the permanence of a constitutional amendment.
“As educators we are deeply committed to the success of every child. MNEA educators have a long track record supporting early childhood education,” Smith said in a statement. “The stakes for children are simply too high to overlook the constitutional amendment’s shortcomings.”
Smith added that the MNEA voiced their concerns to RYH4K, but that none of their suggestions were taken under advisement.
“We met with the RYH4K campaign early to share our concerns about the amendment and offer alternative solutions such as collaborating with local school districts and requiring early childhood programs to use proven education techniques,” he said. “Unfortunately, those suggestions were not incorporated into RYH4K’s amendment.”
The initiative petition has garnered increased opposition the past few months, albeit for different reasons than why the MNEA opposes it. Some health care researchers, including Washington University and Missouri Cures, oppose language added to the provision that ensures no funds raised from the petition go towards embryonic stem cell research. They find such language could place a harmful stigma on such techniques.
That same language also prohibits any revenue from the tax increase to go towards abortion practices or cloning.
The opposition comes less than a week after Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green vacated the IP’s fiscal note in an unprecedented ruling, putting into question whether or not the proposal will appear on a ballot later this year.
Updated – 3:31 p.m. May 25, 2016: Clarified comments from Rallo.