Voters learn more about school funding initiative

Voters learn more about school funding initiative

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Voters will have the chance in November to dictate the responsibility of the legislature to fund Mississippi's public schools.

Ballot Initiative 42, which was created after a petition was signed by nearly 200,000 Mississippi voters, seeks to require the state to fund Mississippi's public schools adequately and efficiently. If voters choose Initiative 42, it will also send the funding matter to chancery court should the state fail to fund education through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

On the flip side, the state legislature created an alternative to Initiative 42, called Initiative 42-A. It calls for the legislature to provide support of "effective" schools without judicial enforcement.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said it concerned him that the wording and titles of Initiative 42 and 42-A are similar.

"Everybody needs to read this," Hosemann said at a public forum in Hattiesburg Tuesday.

MAEP, which was created by the legislature in 1997, has only been fully funded twice. Supporters of Initiative 42 say this proposed change to the state's Constitution will hold lawmakers accountable for following a law their body created.

"It's a matter of economics more than it is just a matter of public policy and whether or not you're going to properly educate your children," Mississippi Department of Education board member Bill Jones said.

Jones, who is from Petal and a former legislator, said most legislators do not mind Initiative 42 because "it gives them a cover."

"They can blame it on the courts," Jones explained. "They can blame it on anybody but themselves."

Opponents of Initiative 42 believe it will require the state to pull money from other budgets to fund MAEP.

"The funding is not guaranteed," Jones County Junior College instructor Michael Boyd said. "They base this on future projections which may fall through."

Initiative 42 organizers say funding would come from the state's economic growth, not from other agencies.

Their website proposes 25 percent of the growth of the General Fund be put towards education, projecting full funding over six to seven years.

Hosemann said this is the first time the legislature has ever created an alternative to a ballot initiative. The alternative was lead by Representative Greg Snowden (R- Meridian).

With low turnouts in the August primary, Hosemann is concerned with the number of voters who will turn out for November, when this initiative and alternative will amend the Mississippi Constitution.

"We need to have more than half of the people vote on our Constitution," Hosemann said. "This is education. This is about your children, or your grandchildren, and how it's going to be funded."

The Secretary of State's office will hold two more public forums on Initiative 42 and 42-A this month. They will be in Gulfport on Thursday, September 3 in the WINGS Theatre at the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center and in Brookhaven on Tuesday, September 8 in Lampton Auditorium at the Mississippi School of the Arts.