Top republican leaders criticize democratic involvement in school funding initiative

Top republican leaders criticize democratic involvement in school funding initiative

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Mississippi's top republicans made a stop in Hattiesburg Thursday on their tour to tell people to vote against Initiative 42.

That initiative would require the state to provide support of an "adequate and efficient system" of public schools by changing the state's Constitution and enforcing it through "appropriate injunctive relief" in the state's chancery courts.

Opponents, who include Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Phillip Gunn and insurance commissioner Mike Chaney, claim the threat of a court means a Hinds County judge would control the state's education funding, should the legislature not fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which has only been fully funded twice since the legislature created it in 1997.

Chaney said that decision should not be made "through one judge who is elected by a very small handful in a county that is known to be very liberal and anti-anything that may prove to be conservative in this state."

Chaney, along with Bryant, Reeves and Gunn, claimed Initiative 42 was a partisan effort by democrats.

However, the Mississippi Republican Party State Central Committee issued a resolution in September in support of the legislative alternative, 42-A, calling 42 a "political wedge issue" for the general election.

"The point is that the legislature has failed for 18 years to fully fund our schools," 42 supporter Patsy Brumfield said, calling the republican leaders' actions hypocritical.

Reeves, who said his campaign contributed money to a political action committee against 42, claimed Initiative 42 would cut funds from other agencies to fund MAEP, although that was denied by 42 supporters.

"This is the legislature's decision 100 percent," Brumfield said of how it is funded. "I think that there are enough smart people in the legislature to figure out how to do this without causing budget problems."

The website for 42 suggested funding MAEP through the state's economic growth, leaving it up to the legislature to decide.

When asked about the mentions by 42-A of a "liberal Hinds County judge" making decisions for the program, and the reference of that judge being African American, Bryant did not scold a republican representative who said it would be a black judge making the calls.

Instead, he criticized 42 for its ads featuring, what Bryant called, a white character personifying a legislator taking a computer out of a black child's hands.

"That's offensive," Bryant said. "Whoever put that together knew exactly what they were doing. They were stereotyping a white legislator taking a computer out of the hands of a young African American student. They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

A group of lawyers and law professors issued this letter regarding 42 and the courts, calling the arguments about the Hinds County judge "unsound and exaggerated misstatements about how the legal process actually works."

Mississippi voters will vote on Initiative 42 and 42-A on Nov. 3.