For the past 18 years, the Legislature has virtually ignored its own promise to fully fund our schools. This means that local governments have been forced to try to make up the difference. Higher local property taxes are the result in places where local economies are able. The school districts in poorer counties must try to survive on the “kindness” of their elected lawmakers.
Initiative 42, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, is necessary only because of the failure of our state leaders to follow a law that is already on the books, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). Claims of “wanting better jobs” and of “supporting public education” have ceased to have much meaning when uttered by those who continually ignore the statute passed almost two decades ago. It seems that the only recourse now is to force our elected representatives to do what we sent them to Jackson to do instead of following the bidding of lobbyists whose agendas are to divert state funds away from public education funding.
Here’s what Initiative 42’s 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 court of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”
The petition to put Initiative 42 on the ballot carried a lengthy “roadmap” which spelled out a phase-in to full MEAP funding. It did so to make very clear that no one intends to force agency budget cuts or to give anyone an excuse to raise taxes. In a year when the state’s economy increases, the plan detailed in the petition calls for a percentage of that increase to be directed toward schools. If the economy is stagnant, no such increase will occur.
The text of Initiative 42 contains the term “adequate and efficient.” That is a phrase used to describe an education that will produce a graduate who will be ready to compete with is or her peers from other states for good jobs in an ever-changing economy. “Adequate and efficient” does not speak to school consolidation as some would have us believe.
Opponents of Initiative 42 are using a scare tactic about having a chancery judge in Hinds County become the “dictator” in school funding. All legislative action, according to current state law, is subject to judicial review. That review, as designated by the Legislature, begins in the Hinds County court. That same Legislature can enact a law to change where the review begins. And as most people know, significant legal disputes are not fully resolved until heard by the state’s Supreme Court.
More than 200,000 Mississippians signed petitions last year to put Initiative 42 on the ballot. Opponents in the Legislature, in an attempt to confound and confuse, quickly placed an “alternative” on the ballot in hopes of killing both measures. Please do not be misled by this tactic. Initiative 42 is the only way left to make the people that we send to Jackson to spend our tax dollars, do so with our school children uppermost in their minds.
It is our responsibility to help make Mississippi a better place. We take very seriously the admonition in the Book of Matthew: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40.
Our children, the ‘least’ among us, deserve to have us do the right thing. We in Mississippi are now faced with an important opportunity to demonstrate that we care about the education of our children and future work force by voting for Initiative 42. It is true that money will not solve all our ills but it certainly will be a beginning to making Mississippi the place we know it can be.
» Ronnie and Dianne Walton of Meridian are the parents of two adult children and the grandparents of five. An attorney and former chemical engineer, Ronnie is the former national president of the Mississippi State Alumni Association. Dianne, formerly a trustee for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, is retired from Meridian Community College where she served as Director of admissions and registrar. Together, they support community programs and advocate for civic, educational and charitable work to make Mississippi a better place for all its citizens.
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