Progressive Case to Vote YES on 3 — Part I
The Moral Imperative to Fund Early Childhood Education
With all the conflicting information out there about Amendment 3, it’s easy to get confused. Organizations that I care deeply about are on opposite sides of the issue (proponents, opponents). With the inaction of the Missouri State Legislature to fund what should be basic funding allocations, such as early childhood education, many organizations are fighting for their piece of the pie, or rather the crumbs left over from the pie. Caught in the middle of the fighting, as so often happens, are kids. It’s time to put kids first and ensure that all children have access to quality, affordable, early childhood education regardless of zip code. I’m asking you to vote YES on Amendment 3.
What Does Amendment 3 Do?
I’ve spent most of my career working in the early childhood education arena. Missouri has one of the least funded early childhood education programs in the entire country, only investing $37 million annually in programming for children from birth through five years. With Amendment 3, a $.60 tax increase on tobacco would be phased in over a four-year period. Currently, Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country. Amendment 3 also establishes an equity fee of an additional 67 cents per pack levied on non-participating manufacturers (wholesale tobacco), which are tobacco manufacturers who have not become participating manufacturers in accordance with provisions of the Master Settlement Agreement.
Each year, Missouri taxpayers subsidize non-participating manufacturers to the tune of $80 million because out-of-state discount tobacco companies take advantage of a loophole in the Master Settlement Agreement that only Missouri has failed to close. Amendment 3 closes this loophole and dedicates the revenues gained from closing it to early childhood health and education. In addition, by raising prices substantially on the cheapest cigarettes, we will be able to cut smoking rates and slash future health care costs associated with smoking.
Together, these tax increases will bring in an estimated $300 million in funding to early childhood education for the State of Missouri. For perspective, Missouri currently provides $600 million annually to prisons and only $37 million to early childhood education. If we want fewer people in prisons, we need to invest in early child hood education.
Why Early Childhood Education?
It’s an Economic Development Issue. Early childhood education is one of the best investments that communities can make. A White House study found that for every $1 invested in early childhood programming, communities receive $8.60 in future savings. Similar results have been found by University of Chicago’s James Heckman who earned a Nobel Prize for his work on the economic returns of early childhood education. These returns are seen in the form of higher high school graduation rates, higher college attendance rates, increased lifetime earnings, and lower crime rates. Specifically, the University of Pennsylvania found that “participation in high-quality early care can help children avoid special education, grade repetition, early parenthood, and incarceration — all outcomes that imply large costs for government and for society. Furthermore, children (over the long term) and parents who participate in such programs are more likely to be employed; thus revenue from their taxes and enhanced buying power can positively contribute to the economy.”
It’s an Economic Justice Issue. The average salary of an early childhood education professional in Missouri is $9.77 per hour in spite of the fact that most workers have, at minimum, an associates degree and some even have a master’s degree. The typical child care worker is paid per hour. Relatively few workers receive benefits. Despite high exposure to illness, less than one- third of child care centers provide partially paid health insurance. Low wages result in high turnover amongst staff and an exodus of quality educators into higher paying professions.
It’s a Women’s Rights Issue: On average, it costs $5,928 per year for a four-year old child and $8,580 per year for infants to attend a child care center in Missouri. This cost can make it so that it is more economical for parents to stay home, and drop out of the workforce, than to pay for childcare. The average woman taking a 5-year break from her career loses out on $467,000 in income, wage growth, retirement assets, and benefits over her lifetime. This improvement in wages for women by allowing them to stay in the workforce has been found to improve educational outcomes for children as well.
It’s a Health Issue: Investment in early childhood education also has lifelong benefits on health. Children who attend early childhood education programs are less likely to take up smoking and have better lifetime health outcomes, including decreased rates of cardiovascular diseases.
It’s an Equity Issue: Only 49% of the demand for child care is covered by licensed programs in the State. Missouri is in desperate need of more quality early education programs. This disparity is much greater in low-income communities in Missouri. Additionally, 80% of the brain is developed by age three. Without having access to quality early childhood education, low-income communities’ children enter school an average of 12 to 14 months behind their peers from higher-income brackets. In fact, both the Ferguson Commission and The For Sake of All Reports have listed expansion of access to early childhood as being necessary to close the disparity gaps in St. Louis.
This may be the only time in my lifetime that we have a chance at funding education at the early childhood level. This is truly an economic issue, an economic justice issue, a women’s issue, and an equity issue. Let’s put kids at the center of the discussion on Amendment 3.
Click here to read the full ballot measure language.