At forums across the state held by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, proponents stubbornly argue that Initiative 42 is simply about getting the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) fully funded. That’s what their petition said. That’s what their upcoming, expensive advertising campaign is likely to say.
But that’s not what their proposed constitutional amendment says:
“To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”
You don’t see “full funding” or “MAEP.” That’s because the initiative’s masterminds crafted something far more provocative to put in the constitution.
What, pray tell, is an “adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” No such “system” is mentioned in the existing MAEP statute or anywhere in state law.
Also, should “the State” fail to, or unacceptably to proponents, establish this “adequate and efficient system,” the initiative will allow a chancery court to do so by “appropriate injunctive relief.” No doubt any rulings would be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Is their intent to put control of our schools, not just “full funding,” under the courts instead of our elected representatives?
What judges will be constitutionally obligated to order would be wide-ranging based on the wording of the amendment.
By requiring an “adequate” system, the amendment sets the stage for a court to order school districts to offer pre-K education. A growing body of research shows no public school system can provide an “adequate” education without pre-K.
By requiring an “efficient” system, the amendment sets the stage for a court to order consolidation of school districts. While there are numerous efficient school districts, the state school system as a whole is not efficient. Just having two or more school districts in most counties is highly inefficient.
By requiring “the State,” not the Legislature, to implement its provisions, the amendment eliminates from the constitution the Legislature’s responsibility to pass laws and appropriations for the benefit of public schools. This is a peculiar change. Currently, all duties and responsibilities in the constitution are assigned specifically to the executive, judicial, or legislative branch of government. What do the masterminds really intend by this change?
“Initiative 42 is only about fully funding MAEP,” they will get proponents to say.
But the wily amendment the masterminds crafted is so broad, so undefined in state law, and so susceptible to judges’ preferences that reasonable people should be concerned that it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Are Initiative 42 supporters being misled by their masterminds?
Ask why they didn’t draft simple language saying “fully fund MAEP,” why they divorce the Legislature from school funding and oversight, what they really mean by the words “adequate and efficient system,” and why they give the courts authority over much more than full funding.
Don’t be deceived like Aesop’s sheep.
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (email@example.com)
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