JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Retired Teachers Association and Public School Personnel (MRTA) became the latest education organization to come out against the Raise Your Hand For Kids (RYH4K) initiative petition (IP) that would close the cigarette tax loophole by raising cigarette taxes to fund early childhood education.
The MRTA board of directors voted unanimously Monday to oppose the tax increase, joining other education organizations against the ballot measure, including the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri Association of Rural Education. The organization cited the measure’s language that could allow public funds to go to private schools as well as RYH4K’s funding from big tobacco.
“We join a host of other education groups throughout Missouri who oppose this dangerous plan to move public tax dollars to religious and private schools through a voucher program,” said Jim Kreider, MRTA’s executive director, in a statement. “If this battle sounds familiar, it is because we in the education community have been fighting this transfer of tax dollars to private schools for years.”
While the use of taxpayer dollars for early childhood education has been a frequent criticism by the groups opposing the measure, supports say it’s necessary because there aren’t enough public facilities currently equipped to handle pre-K.
“We don’t want to discriminate against districts that don’t have the ability to offer early childhood on their actual campus,” RYH4K executive director Linda Rallo previously told the Missouri Times. “If you only say that public schools get 100 percent of the money and there’s no ability to have a private partnership, then you’re really discriminating against the poorer school districts.”
Kreider also criticized how the money would be distributed, saying that appropriation of education funds was best left to the Missouri legislature, not the commission created by the ballot measure.
“The RYH4K initiative is extremely flawed in that it undermines the constitutional prohibition of tax dollars being distributed to religious and private schools and takes away the responsibility of the Missouri Legislature to manage and fund public education,” he said. “RYH4K creates a non-elected/appointed commission to manage and fund the Early Childhood Program with very little accountability, this creates a dangerous precedent for Missouri. Non-elected commissioners are not accountable to the voters and taxpayers of Missouri and may seek to promote their own private agendas.”
MRTA also echoed another frequent criticism of the RYH4K campaign, arguing that it was funded heavily by RAI, a big tobacco company.
“Big Tobacco Companies and Billionaires should not be dictating the education of Missouri’s public school children.” Kreider said.
In addition to the education groups coming out against the campaign, the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (MPCA), which supports a competing cigarette tax IP, has challenged the RYH4K ballot measure in court. Last month, the amendment’s fiscal note was vacated in circuit court.
After today’s news, RAI gave $100,000 to the Early Childhood Education Initiative, a campaign officially organized in March to support the ballot initiative. The campaign received $47,500 from RAI May 31 and $50,000 from RAI March 31.