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Initiative 42 is not the solution

By Preston Ray Garrett

I understand the importance and value of Mississippi’s public education system. My mother and my in-laws taught in the public school system. I graduated from a public high school and then from Ole Miss with a triple major before earning my M.B.A. and law degree from Ole Miss.

No one can reasonably argue that the education of our children is not the state’s greatest responsibility nor can we afford to fail our children in this regard. If we do, the negative impact on their futures and that of our state is beyond comprehension. However, Initiative 42 is not the solution. 

The problems with public education in Mississippi do not arise from a lack of funding. Rather, these problems are the result of decades of improper resource allocation by those individuals entrusted with the responsibility of administering our public education system. On average, Mississippi spends roughly $8,300 per student each year. Given the average class size in Mississippi classrooms is 25 students, this equals $207,500.00 for every 25 students. The starting salary for a teacher in Mississippi is $34,390 per year. This means that about $173,110 is being applied to administration and physical plant costs for every 25 students. Reasonable taxpayers have a responsibility to ask how the money not being used to pay teacher’s salaries is being spent.

Many experts agree that the key to educational success is smaller classes. By reducing class size to 16 students and continuing to spend $8,300 per student, each class would receive funding of $132,800. Spending half this amount on teacher salaries would increase the average teacher salary to $66,400 with a matching amount left over for administrative and physical plant costs. The fact that the problems with public education result from inappropriate allocation of funds is evidenced by the fact that the school district ranked 151st in 2014 spent more than twice per student than the district which ranked No. 1.

The truth is approximately 39 percent of the state’s total budget is spent on K-12 public education and Mississippi ranks 20th in spending on education based on state gross domestic product. Therefore, all responsible taxpayers have an obligation to vote against Initiative 42 as it will only continue to reward mediocre performance. More importantly, we have a moral obligation to our children to demand accountability from those individuals entrusted with administering our public education system.  Parents do not need a Ph.D in math to realize that the problem with Mississippi schools is not a lack of funding but the improper use of funds by those in charge. As taxpayers, we have a duty to ensure money budgeted for the education of our children is spent on frontline educational expenses and not other things. 

PreSton Ray Garrett is an attorney in Oxford. He can be reached at ray@garrettfridayandgarner.com.