By Andy Arnold
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” That simple quote sums up the position the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) finds itself in having decided to support the early childhood education initiative petition to raise cigarette taxes by nearly 750% being circulated by Raise Your Hand for Kids (RYH4Ks) and bankrolled by RAI, a company affiliated with cigarette maker RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, famous for the use of Joe Camel cartoons to attract youth smokers.
MSBA’s website states:
“MSBA strongly supports the Raise Your Hand for Kids campaign that plans to gather the necessary signatures to put an issue on the November 2016 general election ballot to increase the state’s tobacco tax by 50 cent per cigarette pack. Money generated by this tax would help fund local early childhood development programs in communities throughout the state.”
To be fair, MSBA officially came out in support of the RYH4Ks tax increase initiative campaign well before the final version was filed with the Missouri Secretary of State, and I doubt very seriously that MSBA would have gone anywhere near an endorsement had they known in advance that the final version of the petition would change the Missouri Constitution to allow taxpayer dollars to be used for non-public schools, and that the petitions signature drive would be funded with over $2.2 million from RAI Services, a company affiliated with cigarette maker RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, famous for the use of Joe Camel cartoons to attract youth smokers.
However, that’s the problem with pulling the trigger on an endorsement early and backing a petition that hasn’t been written, unless of course you’re a stakeholder- someone who is actually involved in the petition drafting process- and if that’s the case, refer up to the MLK, Jr. quote. By coming out for an IP before the final version is filed you’re lending your organizations name and reputation to a concept, not a reality, believing that the final version will not betray your membership, your organizations core beliefs and your public reputation.
That’s the crux of this post and why MSBA should pull its head out of the sand and reconsider its endorsement of this fatally flawed initiative petition before the petition does some real harm to MSBA reputation and more importantly, to the way Missouri public schools are funded.
On October 2, 2015, (according to the MSBA website) MSBA adopted “MSBA Legislative Resolutions” including-
- Non-Public School Funding – MSBA opposes the use of vouchers, tax credits, deductions for tuition and related educational expenses, and other similar credit systems to support non-public schools.
- Public School Funding – The MSBA supports adequate and equitable public school pre- kindergarten – 12 state and federal funding to allow all school children in every school district the opportunity to achieve state and federal student performance standards.
- MSBA supports increasing state revenues available to adequately fund public education by bringing certain taxes on tobacco, alcohol and Internet sales to a level consistent with the national average.
Nothing new in these long-standing MSBA positions as they have vigorously opposed schemes to redirect public funding to non-public schools; and, they’ve never met a tax increase that they couldn’t embrace.
On November 20, 2015, just 49-days after MSBA adopted resolutions opposing non-public school funding and calling for increases to tobacco and other taxes, Initiative Petition 2016-152, was submitted on behalf of RYH4Ks to the Missouri Secretary of State. In addition to the new constitutional tax increase of $1.27 on a pack of cigarettes, the RYH4Ks IP permits taxpayer dollars to be used for non-public schools, aka secular (religious) and private schools.
That’s right… the RYH4Ks early childhood education IP undermines MSBA’s legislative resolutions on “Non-Public School” funding by subverting the constitutional protections of Missouri’s Blaine Amendment (Article IX, Section 8 of the Missouri Constitution) and allowing state taxpayer dollars in the form of grants to flow directly to non-public schools.
Article IX, Section 8 of Missouri’s constitution states-
“Section 8. Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose, or to help to support or sustain any private or public school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of personal property or real estate ever be made by the state, or any county, city, town, or other municipal corporation, for any religious creed, church, or sectarian purpose whatever.”
So by supporting the RYH4Ks early childhood education petition, MSBA is reversing it’s long-standing non-public school funding position and advocating that-
- It’s OK to spend taxpayer dollars on non-public schools for early childhood education;
- It’s OK to divert an estimated $280 million taxpayer dollars from this new tax annually away from funding the public school foundation formula and other public school programs so the money can be used to subsidize non-public schools that don’t have to meet state regulations; and,
- MSBA doesn’t mind competing against the non-public schools for taxpayer dollars.
The MSBA has long opposed legislative proposals to allow vouchers and tax credit schemes included in school reform legislation over the years designed to get around Missouri’s Blaine amendment prohibition against state and local governments and government entities at all levels spending public taxpayer dollars for non-public school purposes.
Under the RYH4Ks early childhood education IP, non-public private and secular schools won’t need a voucher or tax credit scheme to receive state taxpayer dollars. Those dollars will simply flow directly to these non-public entities, and to top it all off, these entities can use the money however they see fit. That’s got to leave a bad taste in any school board members mouth.
Advocating for tax increases for new money for public education is one thing. Allowing state taxpayer dollars to be used for non-public schools is another.
MSBA’s continued support of this terribly flawed initiative petition and its blatant and reckless attack on the states prohibition on spending state taxpayer dollars on non-public schools puts MSBA’s motives in question and undoubtedly puts their reputation as a champion for Missouri public schools in serious jeopardy.