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MAEP should be fully funded

By Sid Salter

The political furor over Initiative 42 has been one that I have found difficult to watch evolve. In writing about public policy in Mississippi for more than 30 years, I have long supported increased funding for education at all levels.

I believe that former Gov. William Winter was right when he said: “The only road out of poverty runs by the schoolhouse door.” I watched my honorable parents give a combined 79 years of their lives to public education in Mississippi, much of it spent in small, rural high schools.

Supporting the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in our state came easy to me. I had seen the abject failures of the Minimum Foundation Program and I saw firsthand the institutional inequities between the state’s white schools and the state’s black schools when my father was tasked with bringing the students at Neshoba Central High School and George Washington Carver High School together under one roof during school integration in 1970.

As I assess Initiative 42, I do so as the son of career educators, as a parent who sent his child to public schools, and as a grandparent of children still attending public schools.

So when shills for Initiative 42 attempt to couch the conversation as “you’re either for the children or against the children” – which they consistently have done during this debate – I wince. Because the argument they offer is in truth that for Initiative 42 “the end justifies the means.”

Full funding for MAEP is a noble intention and one I’ve long supported. I still support it — but not by any means necessary and not at the expense of the rest of the legitimate and necessary functions of state government. I don’t support it at the expense of jettisoning fundamental separation of powers in state government, nor at the expense of not having my elected representatives exercise their judgment in the budget building process.

Because to implement full funding of MAEP through constitutional amendment and to essentially hand appropriations authority for public education to the courts rather than the Legislature in perpetuity is simply bad public policy.

What has transpired in Mississippi over Initiative 42 is that good people frustrated with their inability to impose their political will through the legislative process have decided to do so through the judicial process. They justify that posture by repeating: “It’s for the children.”

The intent of Initiative 42 is to take legislative discretion out of the education funding process and to put that discretion in the hands of a judge. The intent, and no backer of Initiative 42 apologizes for this, is to make sure that MAEP gets “fully funded” come hell or high water.

Backers of Initiative 42 legitimately say that their proposal was for a “phased-in” move to full funding, but unfortunately the actual language of the constitutional amendment absolutely does not provide such a mechanism.

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove initially beat Initiative 42 backers to the punch by trying to go straight to the courts to get MAEP funded by judicial fiat, but the courts were always the destination that 42 backers were seeking.

So Mississippi voters will get a chance to decide in this election if the end – full funding of MAEP – really does justify the means “for the children” in taking control of the state’s public education funding away from the Legislature and vesting it in the courts. For me, it doesn’t.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.