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Mississippians want to do right thing with 42

By T.J. Ray

Since the Mississippi Adequate Education Program was passed in 1997, state allocations for education have declined but have gradually gone up — up to almost what they were in 2008. At the same time money for the rest of state government has risen steadily so that it is 30 percent higher than it was in 2008.

It is no doubt true, that public education probably wastes some of its precious funds. An easy example is seen in the needless duplication of school districts in many counties in the state, where consolidation would result in cost savings.

Now comes an opportunity for Mississippi voters to act on their views of education. On their ballot in November, they will be asked to vote on changing the State Constitution.

Mississippi is the only state in the nation without a constitutional requirement of public education support. Should the voter say “yes” to that change, the next choice will be between resolutions as to how to fund public education, one crafted cleverly by legislators to maintain our status quo, the other by citizens seeking significant force in the definition of “adequate” envisioned in the Mississippi Adequate Education.

Getting ready for the vote, the proponents of continuing to underfund education are pulling out all the stops. One is that a county judge in Hinds County will adjudicate any disputes. Patent nonsense! Another is that the referendum will take away funds from universities and community colleges. Another false claim. A third one is the as-yet only threatened — perhaps to scare folks into opposing the education vote — possibility of a 7 percent reduction in current budgets. And it is somewhat outrageous that some legislators who sit on education committees are opposed to this change. Resignation from those committees should be their next act.

Please allow me to include some words from a blog I came across. Written by a Mississippian with 37 years in public education, it does a painfully accurate job of painting the scene facing us. His words: “Everyone has a right to their viewpoint as well as a right to take an opposing stand, but when lies and misinformation are blatantly told as truths, the boundaries of decency and integrity are breached. It is an injustice to intentionally mislead anyone, but especially citizens who want so desperately to do the right thing. How can people be expected to make the right choice when they are relentlessly subjected to misleading information that has only one purpose and that is to confuse? Unfortunately, opponents of Initiative 42 have done an excellent job confusing the public about Initiative 42.”

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program is a promise by legislators to provide teachers and schools the resources necessary to bring students up to the standards required by the accountability system. The accountability system holds districts and individual schools accountable for their performance, and the MAEP provides a formula that determines the funding necessary for each district to provide an adequate education to children.

Frankly, I don’t know that the passing of Initiative 42 next month will improve education in the state. But I do know that unless education funding is not made a constitutional requisite that legislatures, one after another, can ignore education. And though I have no way of knowing it, my bet is that Mississippi will continue to be the lowest ranked state in public education measurement.

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.