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Initiative 42: A siren in the night

By Dr. Marty Wiseman

Perhaps many of you have seen the new GE commercials that have been running quite frequently lately.

One of the more interesting, yet for Mississippi more sobering of these commercials, is the one where the “nerdy” son sits across from his parents to give them the good news that he has landed a manufacturing job with worldwide manufacturing giant GE. The proud father, clad in work jeans, steel-toed boots and an open flannel shirt over a T-shirt triumphantly presents his son with his “grandpappy’s” big, well-used sledge-hammer. 

Setting it with a thud in front of his newly hired manufacturing son, dad fights back tears as he presents him with this implement of heavy industrial labor saying, “Your grandpappy would want you to have this.” When the son attempts to clarify for the father the nature of his new job by explaining that he would be “writing the computer code” that ran the machines, the fathers disappointment is palpable. “You can’t even pick it up, can you son?” he said.

What does that commercial have to do with the current state of human capital in Mississippi? The reality is the hammers are idly rusting in the tool bends, the old rickety log trucks are parked never to run again, the sawmills and cotton gins are now run by computers and many of our highly trained engineers and scientists only show up in Mississippi for Christmas and the family reunion.

Forbes Magazine recently ranked Mississippi 50th as a state in which to do business, citing the perception held by many of the state’s lack of potential for the development of a workforce for the future wave of high-tech manufacturing.

The Washington Post reported on a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that ranked Mississippi as 50th in Internet access, 50th in health care, 50th in job opportunities and as the 49th most educated.

In the future, the jobs for humans will be those that create, operate, and “write the code” for those machines. The reality is that an adequate education for the broadest segment of the population possible will be the determinant as to whether Mississippi sinks or swims.

At the end of the day, Initiative 42 is in reality a rather measured approach to making certain that education simply gets a fixed share of revenue growth when it occurs until funding levels become sufficient to provide an adequate education to as many Mississippi children as possible.

Much has been said about Initiative 42 usurping the traditional role of the legislature.  The past 15 years have simply proved that such good intentions are unsustainable as the law currently stands. Initiative 42 is clearly an extraordinary solution. All Mississippians deserve a chance to see if putting a Constitutional floor under education funding works. A vote otherwise is a vote for the status quo and far too often in the case of Mississippi that is 50th.

Dr. Marty Wiseman is professor emeritus of political science and public administration and director emeritus of the The Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. Contact him at wmw3@msstate.edu.