Another Amendment 3 Not to Like
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This November Missourians will be asked to vote on a ballot initiative to create a new fund to pay for early childhood education programs. Will you be smart enough to see the trap being laid?
First of all let me say this is my opinion and not necessarily that of Missouri Education Watchdog.
Too much these days is being done with no more to its justification than “it’s for the children.” Amendment 3 is one of those efforts. It calls for a new fund, the Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund, to be established with a 60 cents/pack cigarette tax. The Amendment will create a constitutional requirement in this state to “improve the health and education of children, from birth through age five, and improve accountability for early childhood health and education funding.”
Think about that. The State would be officially responsible for improving (whatever that means) the health and education of your child.
The Amendment is being pushed by Raise Your Hands For Kids which is in turn being funded by R.J. Reynolds. Yes, a tobacco giant is pushing for a cigarette sales tax in Missouri.
The tobacco industry is using the cover of “doing something good for the little children” to get what they want out of the state of Missouri. From ThePitch:
“Among other things, the amendment promoted by Raise Your Hand for Kids imposes an “equity assessment fee” of 67 cents on each pack of cigarettes sold by non-participating manufacturers…. Raise Your Hand for Kids incorporated in late 2014. U.S. Engineering Co., one of the oldest and largest private companies in Kansas City, was an early contributor to the campaign (for Amendment 2). Tyler Nottberg, the chairman of U.S. Engineering, is a founder of the Alliance for Childhood Education, a group that promotes workforce readiness in Kansas and Missouri.”
The background, covered very well by The Pitch, is that a 1998 agreement between states and major cigarette manufacturers provides billions of dollars to the states for Medicare costs associated with cigarette smoking in exchange for states promise not to sue those manufacturers for even more money through punitive charges. Small cigarette suppliers pay into an escrow fund to cover similar smoking related illness suits, but a loophole in the law has allowed them to collect refunds from these accounts since the agreement was signed in 1998. Missouri is one of the few states which have not fixed the loophole which makes the large manufacturers like R.J. Reynolds unhappy and makes Missouri a target.
The solution is to fix this loophole with language in Amendment 3 that assesses an additional 67 cent per pack “equity assessment fee” on non-participating manufacturers. Once those funds are placed into the ECHETF they cannot be refunded to these companies. Those funds are to remain separate from the state’s general fund. If the tax is found to reduce income to any of the following taxing districts: the fair share fund, the health initiatives fund, state school monies fund, local tobacco taxes or revenues generated from local sales taxes, up to 4% of the monies collected by the cigarette tax shall be paid back into these political subdivisions and funds.
Amendment 3 establishes a Commission to replace the Coordinating Board for Early Childhood, the state’s public/private entity for coordinating “early childhood programs and services intended to support the healthy development and school readiness of all Missouri children from birth through age five.”
The CBEC functions as Missouri’s State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Care and Education under the federal Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, Public Law 110-134, and received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to extend its work in early childhood policy coordination across state agencies.
The new Early Childhood Commission shall be made up of:
- the directors from the Health and Human Services, Mental Health and Social Services departments,
- the Commissioner of DESE (or her designee),
- the chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and one other member of that committee, appointed by either the House Speaker or Senate Pro Tem (whichever body is not represented by the Chairman)
- the Director of Head Start, and
- six citizens.
Those six citizens shall represent: higher education, business, medicine (all appointed by the Governor) early childhood education and development providers, local head start agencies, and faith (all appointed by the State Board of Education). The commission shall have full regulatory power over hospitals, health care facilities, early childhood education providers and all who receive grants from the fund. It seems higher education and business have a vested interest in how babies are treated, but parents do not.
Though they have power over education programs, they do not answer to the State Board of Education.
With full regulatory authority and a constitutional mandate, what can’t this Commission do in the name of helping your child?
Home visits? Already promoted by the ACA and incentivized by ESSA.
Mandatory parenting classes? Florida and Washington have already have them for divorcing parents and New York has considered them as a requirement to get out of 6th grade. Other states who have considered them for anyone receiving state entitlement money.
Continuous assessments to make sure your child is improving? With preschool standards waiting in the wings, we can easily see preschool assessments coming. The push is to start children in formal school earlier and earlier does not have research support it, and may actually be harmful to children. “Preschool years are not only optimal for children to learn through play, but also a critical developmental period. If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.” By Angela Hanscom Washington Post Answer Sheet
Mandatory vaccines regardless of whether your child attends public school? There are kick backs available to pediatricians who vaccinate more than 63% of their patients due to a loophole in the laws prohibiting such kickbacks. Vaccines are exempt. If it is state policy to improve the health of children in those prime vaccination years, our own constitution could be used by pharmaceutical and medical lobbyists to justify such a mandate.
I am all for helping the kids who need it and whose parents want it. Make funds available for those purposes. Put together a commission to look at early childhood research and provide summaries and recommendations for the legislature and State Board of Education to access if they want to consider changes to state statute. But we go too far when we make it the public policy of the state to affect the outcome for children, especially when many parents don’t want the state’s input or oversight over these critical years. This language does not belong in the state’s constitution. Don’t let big tobacco use you, under the guide of helping kids, to solve their competitive problems. Fix the loophole, but stay out of our babies’ lives.