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BILL CRAWFORD — Charter school suit exposes state overreach

BILL CRAWFORD

“People, not the government, know best how to take care of their own money,” is one of Gov. Phil Bryant’s favorite themes.

You can see it reflected in his consistent opposition to federal government laws and regulations attempting to dictate public policy to Mississippians – on abortion, healthcare, gun rights, school standards, EPA rules, and more. It was there in his published piece supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, praising the judge’s opinions rejecting “agency overreach.”

It has its roots in Thomas Jefferson’s perspective that “The will of the people… is the only legitimate foundation of any government.” And, by that, he meant the will of the majority.

It is a corollary to longtime Republican public policy – dating back to Barry Goldwater – that “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” In other words, since state government is closer to the people, it will serve them better than the federal government.

The Governor is not the only conservative Republican on board with this notion. In the past session of the Legislature, by a vote of 31 to 17 in the Senate and 70 to 46 in the House, Senate Concurrent Resolution 56 was adopted. This is the resolution whereby Mississippi joined 13 other states calling for a convention of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution to “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.” The rationale, in part, is “the federal government has invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative process of federal mandates.”

How ironic, then, that Mississippi government acts just like the federal government when it comes to local government.

This is my very most favorite government hypocrisy. The same complaints state officials use against the federal government can be used against them by local officials.

Ask a mayor about home rule. Ask a supervisor about unfunded state mandates. Ask a school board member about policy flexibility. Indeed, state overreach into local affairs far exceeds federal overreach into state affairs.

Let’s take a look at the lawsuit against charter schools now pending in the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The state established charter schools outside the normal public school domain. They do not answer to local elected school boards and have their own state agency, not the Mississippi Department of Education. In setting them up, the state mandated that local schools transfer funds to charter schools, so much per local student attending the charter school. This includes a share of local tax revenue as well as state revenue.

Now, remember that local elected school boards set property tax millage rates based on what the regular public schools need to operate. Maximum millage and annual increases are also limited by state mandates.

Parents of students in Jackson public schools have sued the state for taking their local tax money and giving it to charter schools in the city.

The state contends school money, state and local, should follow the students.

Local school advocates contend, since neither local voters nor local school boards had a say in the establishment or operation of these charter schools, just the state, tax money local school boards authorized should stick with the schools for which the money was intended.

Hmmm.

Sure looks like state government overreach to me. Local school boards are a lot closer to the majority of their people than state government.

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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