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KANSAS CITY — The promise of more state-funded preschool programs in Missouri has supporters of a cigarette tax increase urging parents to approve Amendment 3 next month.

Missouri spends less on early childhood education than any of the states surrounding it.

Only three out of every one hundred 4-year-olds in the Show-Me State are enrolled in a state funded early childhood program. In Iowa, six out every ten 4-year-olds are in a publicly funded preschool. In Oklahoma, more than three out every four kids get state support for pre-K.

Passage of Amendment 3 would help expand private and public preschool programs, like one at St. Mark Child and Family Development Center, where studies show early education makes kids less likely become criminals or end up behind bars.

“I don’t know any community that doesn’t have families who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Deidre Anderson, executive director of United Inner City Services. “Often what happens is child care quality is compromised because people can’t afford it. Child care is extremely expensive and often we will end up with people going with the least expensive just because of cost.”

Opponents of the proposal include Missouri’s teacher’s union and the Missouri Association of Rural Education. Both don’t like public tax dollars going to private and religious schools. Some also claim the tax would allow unelected bureaucrats to raid public education money in determining which preschools get it.

Kansas City has made increasing access to early childhood education a priority. That’s why leaders like the mayor support the proposed tax. But opponents say the cost is too high, especially after the tobacco industry included a provision to prevent stricter tobacco laws.