Missouri National Education Association political director Mark Jones says early childhood education is being used as a shield and special interests are trying to hijack their own agenda into the constitution. The state’s largest group of educators oppose Amendment 3, which aims to help pregnant moms and youth quit smoking and pay for early childhood programs and health screenings for children.
Jones says there’s a provision in the amendment that removes protections to not fund religious schools.
“That would allow Amendment 3’s money to go towards elite private schools and it certainly in no way be considered a lock box of any sort. It starts becoming a slush fund for pet projects and for politicians,” says Jones. “This unaccountable, unelected committee that has the ability to fund pet projects or give away political favors with the funds, and there’s no recourse for you and I as citizens to adjust that.”
ACLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman voiced a similar sentiment.
“Amendment 3 has one line in the amendment, that without notice, without discussion, without review, without clarification, overrules a long-standing rule in the state of Missouri. That rule is that in Missouri, we protect and respect religious freedom,” says Mittman. “With a one line snuck into a tiny phrase of a large amendment, that’s really bad practice. It’s bad drafting. It’s bad public policy. It’s bad politics,” says Mittman.
St. Louis attorney Jane Dueker, who represents the group backing Amendment 3, detests the arguments.
“All money that would be expended from the proceeds of Amendment 3, it could never be used under any circumstances under the U.S. Constitution and the Missouri Constitution, for religious instruction. There’s nothing about Amendment 3 changes that,” says Dueker.
She goes on to mention a 2007 Missouri Supreme Court case involving St. Louis University that entitled tax credits to the catholic school. She also references the state providing early childhood funding to the YMCA, a Christian non-profit organization.
“This line has never been absolute. It always surrounds whether you’re providing religious instruction or aiding religion,” says Dueker.
She says by law, Missouri’s public school system doesn’t begin until kindergarten.
Dueker says early childhood and higher education representatives would sit on the panel that Jones is referring to.
“It is the same model that’s used for MODOT, which are constitutionally-protected funds, which is why we did this in this way and so that they can’t be swapped out like they did with the gaming money in the foundation formula,” says Dueker. “It’s also like the Conservation Commission, where you have unelected people who are not subjected to the whim of politicians.”
The measure will be on the November 8th general election ballot. The tax is projected to raise about $300 million a year.
“Almost every single person who has opposed this, it’s because they want use of the money for themselves. The problem is, if this goes into the formula, it will never go to early childhood education,” says Dueker.
Another tobacco tax increase proposal that will be on the November ballot is headed by The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. MPCA wants to increase the tobacco tax by 23 cents per pack to help pay for Missouri’s roads and bridges. If approved by voters, the measure is expected to generate about $80-$100 million annually.
The state’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation – 17 cents per pack.