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MAEP discussions questionable

TJ Ray

TJ Ray

“Education is the No. 1 Economic development issue in Mississippi and every other state.

And it is our No. 1 quality of life issue, too. I’m confident that in March, you will pass, and I will sign an appropriation that fully funds the MAEP formula for the next year. More important, I expect that formula to be funded consistently at 100 percent in the years to come.”

Stop and read that paragraph again. It was not written by a Democrat, even one keen on helping public education. Its author was a Republican governor, dramatically different than our current one. Haley Barbour said that to a joint session of the legislature on Jan. 15, 2007.

Now we find ourselves nine years later under a different regime, with a very biased agenda. Shades of George Orwell! Big Brother strikes again—well, he plans to strike again this week. You’re invited to the show, but you must be pre-cleared to ask a question.

At the first—and only other—public discussion of the issue of MAEP funding and how the incumbents were going to handle it (read that: railroad it), the chairman of the House Education Committee restricted the inquiry to 75 minutes, cutting off questions that he felt “went into the weeds.” At least twice he admonished legislators: do not contact anyone at EdBuild in an effort to obtain information about the MAEP revamp. All questions were to be sent only to the education committee staffers for processing.

What’s going on? The anti-public education folks are rigging things again. They scheduled a “public” meeting for Thursday between 4 and 5 p.m. In a single hour, they plan to review, discuss, and (probably) settle a complicated issue that took hundreds of hours to create. Could a less convenient hour have been chosen at a time when the public from north and south Mississippi might be able to attend? Yes, they might have, but that’s part of the strategy. The fewer folks, legislators and public, who get wind of what’s coming, the less force there will be to stop it.

The topic of the pseudo-public hearing was to discuss what the EdBuild folks plan to do about funding public schools. You may recall that EdBuild, a company that is only two years old, was chosen without any public input. The money going to that group is enormous. The leadership of the legislature will not let the public see the contract or the official emails leading up to that contract. Isn’t it strange that on the national level the opening of official emails is such a hot topic, but here in the sleepy, bucolic Magnolia State some manipulators simply decree they will not be shown?

Ah, but there is hope; questions might have been submitted for the session. The only snag in that was that you must give notice that you have a question in advance. And you had to seek permission for any type of question or comment you might have. No doubt a time limit was attached to any question vetted as being safe for a public hearing.

Subsequent to the hearing, the House Management Committee voted to allow representatives to look at contracts made by the body—which it has always done. The catch is that nothing but the cost of the contract is to be told to the public. Half of the money being paid to EdBuilt is anonymous.

One can only be stunned at such naked coercion of the legislature process and denial of public knowledge on a topic that at least Governor Barbour thought should be no. 1 on the Legislature’s agenda.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.