JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Raise Your Hands for Kids (RHY4K) has announced they will enter the fourth and final phase of their ballot measure that would raise the cigarette tax to better fund early childhood education.
In a letter to supporters over the weekend, Erin Brower, the chairwoman of the RYH4K board, said that the the effort to support the ballot measure was “in the home stretch” with just a few months left before it is voted upon in November.
“With this new phase we will have some changes, as we start gearing up for more direct voter contact,” said. “What started out as three ‘nobodies’ traveling around Missouri in a Honda with a big RYH4K sign, has turned into a statewide coalition of parents, educators, health care workers and business leaders who have put politics aside and chosen to invest in children.”
However, with the announcement came news that RYH4K executive director Linda Rallo will no longer spearhead the effort and that her role as executive director has come to an end.
“We never could have made it this far without the heart and strength of Linda,” Brower said. “She has dedicated the past two and a half years of her life to ensuring RYH4K made it to the ballot. We are forever grateful for her dedication to Missouri’s children.”
Rallo will continue to work as the Missouri government affairs liaison for the Alliance for Childhood Education.
While the initiative-petition turned ballot measure garnered early support, it has attracted opposition in the past few months. Ron Leone, the executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, has been among the most vocal opponents to the measure.
The marketers also have submitted an initiative petition (IP) of their own that would increase the cigarette tax, but the revenue generated would fund transportation infrastructure, specifically highways.
“The overwhelming evidence is in the broad array of opposition groups that have sounded the alarms,” he said in a statement reacting to the RYH4K announcement. “This opposition will only grow as we get closer to the election. This flawed scheme’s inevitable rejection by voters will set back early childhood education by at least a decade. The proposal should be dropped and the campaign stopped.”
Others have spoken against the RYH4K measure from both sides of the political spectrum for various reasons. They include education organizations like Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri Association of Rural Education because they fear the money could go to private or religious schools, medical groups like the American Heart Association and American Lung Association in Missouri who are skeptical that cigarette company R.J. Reynolds is the largest funder of the ballot measure, and research organizations and institutions like Missouri Cures and Washington University who believe the petition stigmatizes stem-cell research.
Signatures for both IPs are pending approval for the ballot, currently undergoing signature verification.