October 6, 2015

Mississippi Initiative 42: Public School Funding is No Small Matter!

There are many opinions floating around regarding the best approach to funding public, K-12 education in Mississippi. 

Professional organizations, school district leaders, and parent organizations have made it quite difficult for us to remain in the dark about Initiative 42. Since Initiative 42 will be on the November 3rd ballot, we have less than a month to become informed about the legislation and spread the word. As a consequence, I'd like to share a few resources that explain several aspects of Mississippi Initiative 42. 

Jillian Smart, #JEsupport
Jillian Smart, M.Ed., Author & Edupreneur

A big difference: Initiative Measure #42 vs Alternative Measure #42A
According to Ballotpedia, Initiative 42 "requires the state to provide for an 'adequate and efficient system of free public schools'" as outlined by a bill passed in 1997 known as Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). If you're like me, your first thought is: If we already have a law to address public school funding, why not enforce it? Why do I need to vote on November 3rd?

Here's what I found:

  • Essentially, Initiative 42 gives Mississippi Chancery Courts the power to enforce an existing method for adequately and efficiently funding the free public school system. 
  • Alternative 42A is an option proposed by the Mississippi legislature that seemingly offers no solution to the current crisis in public education funding. 

Chancery Court Judges Do Not Make Laws
Image provided by #FedUpWith50th

What is MAEP?
As it is written, Section 201 allows the Mississippi legislature to prescribe limitations and conditions on how public schools are funded. Though MAEP "provides a formula designed to ensure an adequate education for every Mississippi child", former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove reports several districts in the state have been underfunded. Over a billion dollars have been withheld since 2010. 

The MAEP formula dictates adequate and efficient district funding based on average student attendance, base student cost, an at-risk component, local contribution, and other add-on programs (e.g., gifted education, special education, alternative education). It's not a one-size-fits-all approach, in that districts are guaranteed funding based on need.

What's best for Mississippi?
As November 3rd comes into focus, understanding the official ballot is essential. On the General Election ballot, voters will be faced with two choices.
  1. Vote for approval of EITHER measure, or vote AGAINST BOTH measures.
  2. Vote for Initiative 42 or Alternative 42A
If you support lining the pockets of lawyers and big law firms with funds intended to support K-12 learning, inaction is the best option. Those who vote "against both" measures on item one effectively vote to keep things as they are. 

Districts will have to pursue legal recourse to receive the funding needed to foster adequate and efficient learning environments for K-12 students. In the event that funds are awarded to districts, law firms will collect large portions of settlement funds as payment for litigation expertise.

If you support Initiative 42, vote for EITHER of the two measures on item one. The same is true if you support Alternative 42A. 

The next step involves voting for the amendment designed to enforce adequate and efficient public school funding as outlined by MAEP. The decision is yours.

2015 General Election Ballot: Public Education Funding
Image from MS Secretary of State's Office on 09/29/15

Members of the JE Community have inquired about this topic. Many parents are aware of the public education funding options but aren't sure which option is best for children. Bureaucratic language can be confusing, so this is a modest attempt to keep it simple.