The second-highest leader of the Mississippi House said Thursday that legislators have fulfilled their promises to improve public schools, and he urged voters to defeat an education funding proposal that will be on the ballot in November.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said that if people don’t like the record of the Republican-led House and Senate they have an option. “Change the Legislature,” he said. “Don’t change the constitution.”
Snowden spoke to hundreds of business people who were at the Capitol for an event hosted by the state chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council.
More than 116,000 people petitioned to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot, which also will list races for governor, legislative seats and other offices.
The proposal would require the Legislature to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a budget formula designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. MAEP became law in 1997 but has been fully funded only twice. Critics say if the amendment is adopted, it would infringe on legislators’ budget-writing power by giving a judge control over state education spending.
Legislators have the option of putting an alternate amendment on the ballot, but petition leaders believe an alternative could confuse voters and lead to defeat of the initiative. House and Senate leaders haven’t said whether they’ll add an alternative.
Since 2008, legislators have spent about $1.5 billion less on education than MAEP requires, but Snowden said it’s unfair to criticize them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, most of that money was never in the state coffers to begin with,” Snowden said, citing a shortfall in state tax collections during the Great Recession.
Then-Gov. Haley Barbour was required to make midyear budget cuts during the budget years that ended in June 2009 and June 2010. The cuts affected education and other programs. Snowden said despite those cuts, legislators have put hundreds of millions of dollars more into education during the past several years.
Nancy Loome is head of the Parents’ Campaign, a group that lobbies for full funding of MAEP. In a mass email this week, Loome urged people to contact legislators and urge them not to put an alternate amendment on the ballot.
“It has become abundantly clear that our state’s leaders have no intention of adequately funding our children’s public schools — despite their promises to do so when they asked for our votes back in 2011,” Loome said.
Republican legislative leaders have also criticized an education funding lawsuit filed by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. The suit seeks $236 million for 21 school districts — the amount they say they have been shortchanged under the MAEP formula since 2009. Musgrove, a Democrat, helped steer MAEP into law when he was lieutenant governor.
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