Here we go again another year of inadequate funding for education. However, once again there will be no shortage of new bills introduced at the state capital, and that may be part of the problem. When it comes to writing new legislation, there seems to be an insatiable itch of epidemic proportions in Jackson that is absolutely mind boggling. If 2014 is anything like the past several years, it is probably safe to say the combined number of bills that will be introduced in the Mississippi House and Senate this year will hover around 2,700. Since 2010, there have been 11,088 bills introduced in Jackson of which 1,832 passed both houses and 1,687 became law. That means Mississippi gets an average of 422 new laws every year. Imagine the number of committee hours it must take to filter through all those bills to decide which ones actually have merit or support to move out of committee. On top of that imagine all the hours of debate and wheeling and dealing it must take to get the House and Senate to agree on which bills will become laws. The amount of time is unbelievable, but it goes a long way in explaining why it is so hard to get important things like education funding passed. The good men and women in the legislature are so exhausted by the time they get to the discussion on education funding that they cannot keep their eyes open long enough to get the job done. As a result, when it comes to funding education, the state is perpetually stuck in a 2008 time warp. Maybe, if legislators curtailed the competitive itch to write so many bills of which eighty to ninety percent are without merit, substance or support, maybe, they could find time to take a serious look at MAEP, which to date is a complete fallacy.
When will folks in Jackson begin to understand that they can write all the laws they want to write, but in the end their laws will be little more than ink on a piece of paper if the laws ignore the greater needs of the people. Any legislator worth his salt understands that laws are nothing more than a tool to authorize change. Laws by themselves will not make change happen. Lawmakers can write laws that tell a man he must paint his house, but if the man is starving, the house is not likely to be painted regardless of the law. Painting the house may hide the cracks in the walls and the peeling paint, which are symptoms of a greater problem, but painting the house does nothing to address the root of the problem – unemployment and/or poverty. For the most part, laws in general and education laws in particular do a fair enough job at addressing symptoms, but they are generally very poor at addressing the core problems. In fact, truth be known, most laws are little more than exercises in vanity. Therefore, it is time our state lawmakers stopped trying to reinvent education in their own image, and listened and worked with state educators to find solutions for the issues rather than wasting time on the symptoms.
The job of state legislators is not to lead a crusade against education, but rather to provide support for the children and educators of the state. It is time for Mississippi legislators to understand that the overabundance of new laws and “hot air” that continually blow out of Jackson is not sufficient to support the educational needs of Mississippi’s children. It takes adequate funding to do that. That is why in 1997 MAEP was passed! It was called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program for a reason. The state legislators at the time believed that education funding should be “adequate” to meet the needs of educating the children in the state. Unfortunately, regardless of the reasons, only two state legislatures have felt the same way since 1997, and both of those years, 2003 and 2007, were election years. Sad, but true.
Helen Keller said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.” Unfortunately, that pretty well sums up some of our state legislators when it comes to education. They have sight; they see the problems, but they do not have a vision as to how to address the problems. They believe the answers lie in the chambers of the state capital and within themselves to the point that they often refuse to listen to people within the state who have dedicated their lives to educating children.
All of this boils down to respect, and right now it appears the legislators in Jackson have little if any respect for Mississippi educators. The sad part is that this lack of respect often imparts only short term hardships on adults in the state, but it imparts lifelong hardships on the children of the state. So, what can we do? Unless some things change, we will be having this same conversation five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years from now. The question is how many generations of Mississippi children will we lose before Mississippi adults can get their act together and learn to work together for the common good of the state’s children. To change the conversation, there are many things that must take place and soon, but first and foremost, funding the educational needs of our children and those who educate them must be a priority.
The legislators elected to Jackson are arguably the smartest people from their home districts, and they were sent to Jackson because the voters felt they had the knowledge and backbone to get the job done. If they cannot do the job, they need to go home and let the people elect someone who can. It is no longer acceptable to hide behind the annual motto of, “We are sorry, but we just can’t fully fund education this year.” Mississippi is in dire need of legislators who are not afraid to stand up and say, “We will find a way to fully fund education for the sake of our children.” If indeed the voters did elect smart people to the state legislature, then it is time the legislators started using some of their “smarts” to find a way to fully fund education. Of course, that is not as simple as it sounds, but that is why the voters elect “smart” people to go to Jackson to get the job done.
©Jack Linton, 2014