Governor Bryant’s budget recommendation for the coming legislative session provides Mississipians the perfect reason to vote for the Better Schools, Better Jobs ballot initiative next November. Announced Monday, Bryant’s budget proposal underfunds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) by roughly $260-million, despite state revenue being at its highest level in history.
When state coffers are overflowing and state leaders refuse to put those dollars toward a quality education for our children, it’s time for parents to take a stand. The Better Schools, Better Jobs initiative proposes to amend our state constitution to require the Legislature to fund an adequate system of free public schools. More than 200,000 Mississippians have signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot in November of 2015.
Unfortunately, not every Mississippian supports adequate funding for public schools.
For as long as I’ve been working to get adequate resources for our kids’ schools, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy has been lobbying against it. So, it isn’t terribly surprising that they are working overtime trying to defeat the ballot initiative that will clarify our children’s constitutional right to an adequately funded public education. Some elected officials have jumped on the bandwagon, parroting the Center’s false claims. So much misinformation is being circulated that I want to be sure that you have the truth.
The Better Schools, Better Jobs constitutional amendment, which has received overwhelming support from parents, educators, churches, and community leaders, does three things:
- The amendment states that Mississippi children should have an adequate education, not just a free one. Currently, our constitution just says that public education shall be free; quality is not mentioned.
- The amendment says that the state is responsible (the Legislature and the governor) for providing and supporting (funding) an adequate education. Currently, our constitution holds only the Legislature accountable, not the governor, though the governor has the authority to veto school funding legislation.
- The amendment prevents state funding from going to exorbitant attorneys’ fees, rather than to our children’s schools, should someone sue the state over school funding. It does this by directing school funding lawsuits to the chancery courts, where lawsuits for damages are not allowed. (A school funding ruling would simply require the Legislature to follow the law and the constitution.) The courts already have authority to decide the constitutionality of school appropriations, and currently these suits can be filed for damages. Therefore, attorneys can rake in millions of dollars in state funding by suing the state for damages and taking a hefty percent of the damages in fees.
Rather than telling the truth about these proposed changes, some are twisting them around to make them appear to be something they are not. Click here to see a side-by-side comparison of the misinformation campaign and the facts.
A favorite – and false – allegation of initiative opponents is that one judge in Hinds County will decide school funding for the entire state. This is wrong on many levels, including:
- The court will never become involved if lawmakers follow the law and provide adequate funding for public schools.
- State law allows suits filed in a chancery court to be heard by a jury if either party requests one.
- The State Legislature passed a law designating that suits against the state will be heard in Hinds County, and the Legislature has the authority to change it, setting venue (the location of the trial) anywhere it likes.
- The final ruling on a school funding lawsuit would almost certainly be made by the State Supreme Court.
Another of the oft-repeated fallacies is that the amendment will diminish the authority of the Legislature to appropriate funds. Not so.The Legislature will continue to determine how the state’s education funding should be allocated. The amendment leaves it to legislators to determine what an “adequate” education is, and then it holds them accountable for funding it.
Our elected officials are eager to hold educators accountable for providing children an adequate education, but some appear vehemently opposed to the same accountability for themselves. Our founding fathers wisely established a system of checks and balances in our government – three separate branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) to ensure that one branch did not have too much power. That system gives the courts oversight to ensure that a rogue Legislature does not have excessive power. If, and only if, the Legislature refuses to abide by the law and the constitution, the judicial branch is vested with the authority to step in and keep them in check. That won’t change with this amendment.
Turning a deaf ear to the wishes of the people they were elected to serve, legislative leaders are threatening to employ a never-before-used maneuver to defeat the consitutional amendment. State law allows the Legislature, if it disapproves of a proposed citizen-led inititative, to put a competing version of the measure on the same ballot. The convoluted state law that addresses this provision gives the clear advantage to the Legislature, making it virtually a mathematical impossibility for either version to pass. If “alternative language” is placed on the ballot, it is almost certain that neither version will get the number of votes required for passage, and the amendment will fail. Read why here.
A Conservative Approach
The truth is that the amendment is a slow approach to reaching full funding. Its intent is to attribute a small percentage of any growth in revenue toward public schools over the course of several years, eventually guaranteeing adequate resources. Until then, we will continue to fight each legislative session to bring our schools to the level of funding that neighboring states invest in their public schools.
State leaders opposed to adequate funding have used every excuse in the book to avoid their obligation to fund our children’s schools. They have said that schools aren’t improving; that is false. They have said that educators aren’t accountable; that is false. That have said that state revenue is insufficient; that is false.
Recent history, and Governor Bryant’s budget recommendation, make it clear that, even when funding is plentiful, we can’t rely on our elected officials to protect the interests of our children. Too many of them are simply unwilling to fund a quality public education for Mississippi children.
If we believe that our state should have a strong system of public education, we should support the Better Schools, Better Jobs initiative next November, and we should insist that our legislators vote against any attempt to put a competing version on the ballot. If we don’t, we will continue to get more of the same. And that would be very bad news for Mississippi children.
The stakes have never been higher for Mississippi kids. For so many of them, a strong education is their only hope of a better life. We need your help to make that hope a reality. Will you stand with us?