Mississippi Republican Party leaders are urging people to vote against both of the education funding proposals on the November ballot.
However, an attorney who works on school funding cases in other states said Wednesday that one of the proposals — Initiative 42 — is in the best interest of Mississippi children.
David Sciarra, director of the New Jersey-based Education Law Center, spoke in Jackson at a conference sponsored by a group that advocates for public schools, the Mississippi Education Reform Collaborative.
Sciarra said he helped write Initiative 42 as a proposal to strengthen Mississippi’s financial commitment to education. He said it would hold Mississippi lawmakers accountable by allowing people to file lawsuits if schools are short-funded. He said if a lawsuit is successful, a judge could order more money to be phased in over several years.
“It’s simply really saying to the Legislature, ‘You’ve got to step up on this front and start to work at this,'” Sciarra told reporters after his presentation Wednesday.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and Sciarra said schools with high concentrations of poverty need more money than schools in relatively affluent areas.
“In order for the system to be adequate, it’s going to have to provide more funding and resources to schools that are serving high concentrations of kids who bring extra needs to school with them every day,” he said.
Initiative 42 is a proposed constitutional amendment that got on the ballot after more than 100,000 people signed petitions. It would require the state to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of public schools,” and would allow people to file a lawsuit in chancery court if funding falls short.
Measure 42-A is an alternative put on the Nov. 3 ballot by legislators who oppose the citizen-led initiative. It would require legislators to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.”
The Mississippi Republican Party executive committee this week adopted a resolution calling for defeat of both measures. State GOP chairman Joe Nosef said 42 could give one judge too much control over state spending.
“This is just an end-run around the legislature elected by the people of Mississippi,” Nosef said in a news release Tuesday.
His argument reflects those made by many Republican elected officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn.
Republican lawmakers say they have put a record amount of money into Mississippi schools this year. Critics point out that the state’s school funding formula has been shortchanged most years since it was put into law in 1997. The formula is designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards.