Progressive Case for YES on 3 — Part III
Understanding the Early Childhood Landscape: Public/Private Partnership
But Won’t the General Assembly Just Supplant the Money Like They Did With the Lottery?
Amendment 3 creates a constitutionally protected lock box for early childhood health and education that ensures that the funds cannot be used for anything other than early childhood education. I have heard many concerns that the Missouri General Assembly will just remove current early childhood funding if this is passed. Yes, that is definitely a possibility. However, the state of Missouri only spends $36 million annually on early childhood education. This tax will generate $300 million annually. Even if the state takes away that $36 million we are still light years ahead in terms of funding early childhood education. There’s not nearly the level of money to supplant that there is with k-12 education.
But This Will Fund Religious and Private Schools with Public Money, Right?
As the daughter of a retired NEA Local President there are few things that matter more to me than the protection of public education. I also think that it is important to understand a few things about the landscape of early childhood education in Missouri. First, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits public dollars from going toward religious instruction. Funds cannot be used on religious education, period. With that said, religious organizations, such as the YMCA already receive public money to provide early childhood programing so long as that funding does not go toward religious education.
Second, it’s important to understand how the current system of early childhood education is funded. In Missouri we already have a blended funding model between public and private institutions. Private schools already receive early childhood programs and, in fact, most programs in this state are private. Parents receive child care subsidies, or for lack of a better term, vouchers. Programs also receive food and other health related government funding. In return, these programs must adhere to state licensing standards.
Although I would love for Missouri to have a completely public early education system, it is irrational to think we could move to a completely public system. Most of the supply in Missouri is in the private sector, and we also use public money at private institutions in the form of child care subsidies and child and adult food care program reimbursement. A prime example of this are Head Start programs, which are often private organizations, such as Grace Hill, the YWCA, and the Urban League, who receive government contracts to run the program.
Facilities have to be licensed or accredited in Missouri to receive those funds. Missouri recently passed a quality rating system this past year that ensures quality. Although I support when St. Louis Public Schools added pre-k programming to its elementary schools, the decision was done without the consultation of those in the private sector, and as a result, some really high quality programs serving low-income kids went out of business because they couldn’t compete with free.
The best delivery model for early childhood education services for children ages birth through 5 is a public/private model. Public schools are not in the business of taking care of infants and toddlers. The only way we can reach all children is through a blended model, and we already do that in Missouri — Head Start and Missouri Preschool Project public money’s go to private providers.
If we already had the bulk of our early childhood programs in the public sector, then I would be all for it going just to the public sector, but that is not the system we have. Only having the funds in the public sector would disenfranchise many children in rural areas where schools would have to build additions to accommodate rather than being able to use existing programs. Couple that with the travel times induced by closing programs in small towns and having to bus or drive kids that young to school districts is not in the best interest of kids. There has to be a public/private partnership where school districts can contract with quality programs to replicate their programs in a public setting rather than starting from scratch. I’m rarely on the opposite side as the teachers unions, but I am in this case because we have real financial, logistical, and educational reasons to not switch to a completely public system.
In sum, if we only want early childhood education in the public sector are we saying that we should defund programs like Head Start and the Missouri Pre-school Program? Then are we further saying that no non-profit organization should receive government funding because they do not operate in the public sector? I think not.
Unless we are ready to draw those hard lines in the sand, that no non-profit or Head Start Program should be receiving government money since they are not public entities, I encourage you to vote YES on Amendment 3.
Perfect Can’t Be the Enemy of the Good
Is this Amendment perfect? No. Are there aspects that, as a progressive, I wish were not included? Yes. Are the intentions behind it good? Yes.
This may be the only time in my lifetime that we have a chance at funding education at a early childhood level. This is truly an economic issue, an economic justice issue, a women’s issue, and an equity issue. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If we wait for perfection, another generation of children will be raised in front of the TV rather than in a nurturing educational environment that prepares them for kindergarten and beyond. On November 8th, we have the opportunity to not leave behind another generation of children. Let’s take that opportunity.
Click here to read the full ballot measure language