Monthly Archives: October 2015

Response to a Retired Teacher about Initiative 42

[Note: Recently a retired school teacher responded to one of my blogs expressing her concerns with Initiative 42. She had concerns with what she felt was ambiguous wording in the Initiative, putting too much power in the hands of a single judge, and the possibility of taxes being raised if Initiative 42 passes. Since there are others who are still expressing some of the same concerns, I decided to use my response to her as today’s blog.]

Thank you for taking time to read the blog and comment. As a retired school teacher myself, I could feel and understand the angst in your words as you struggle with the Initiative 42 issue. From the passion and compassion of your words, it is obvious why teachers such as you will not have to wait in line in heaven to get their wings. You have every right to be concerned, but I will do my best to make you feel more at ease about Initiative 42.  I thank you for your years of service as a teacher, and your continued attention to education issues.

Concern #1: Vagueness in the wording of Initiative 42 and the use of “state” in place of “legislature.”

The biggest differences between the wording of Initiative 42 and the current wording of Section 201 of the Mississippi State Constitution are two words “state” replacing legislature and the word “adequate.” Under Initiative 42, “legislature” is being replaced by “state” for one reason and that is that for years education funding has been left in the hands of the state legislature, and other than voting for their legislative representatives, the people have had little or no voice in funding education. In theory, that should not be a problem since elected officials are supposed to uphold the law as well as uphold the will of the people who voted them into office. However, sometimes when elected representatives arrive in Jackson, something mysterious seems to happen, they magically become “all knowing” with the belief they have the freedom to do as they choose. For example, ignoring the law and not fully funding education according to the MAEP formula. Of course, this is not a recent phenomenon. The reluctance of state legislators to make education a priority has been a stain on Mississippi for countless decades.

In 1997, the Legislature finally passed a law that many hoped would put to rest the education funding issue. The 1997 law required the Legislature to “adequately” fund education, and created the MAEP formula as the measurement of “adequate” spending for K-12 public school education. Over the next 18 years, the Legislature honored that law twice. They ignored/broke the law 16 out of 18 years at the expense of public school children and teachers across Mississippi. Therefore, in 2015, Initiative 42, supported by over 188,000 citizens, was placed on the ballot to address the legislators’ reluctance to honor the law.

In Initiative 42, the word “legislature” was changed to “state” to make legislators accountable to the people. Without that change the legislators would remain accountable only to themselves except once every four years when they were up for election or re-election. Basically, they say whatever it takes to be elected, and once elected, they do as they please. However, Initiative 42 makes them accountable in non-election years as well. The Initiative does not usurp the power of the voter, but rather adds to the power of the voter to ensure elected representatives do their job and follow the law even between elections. Changing the word “legislature” to “state” allows the people to have recourse when the Legislature fails to perform its duties as required by law. Under Initiative 42, for probably the first time in history, state politicians will be held accountable for their actions or lack of action.

Concern #2: Ambiguity of the word “adequate” in Initiative 42, and the word “funding” not in Initiative 42.

There is no ambiguity in the use of the word “adequate” in Initiative 42. An “adequate” education or “adequate” funding was established by the 1997 MAEP law. Under the law, the MAEP formula is used each year to determine each school district’s “adequate” MAEP allotment (funding). MAEP covers teacher and district employee salaries, retirement and insurance, instruction materials, operational costs, transportation, and add on programs such as special education, vocational education, gifted education and alternative education. The formula itself reads: ADA (Average daily attendance) X base student cost + at risk component (free and reduced lunch) – local contribution + 8% guarantee + add on programs = MAEP funding for the school district. The 8% guarantee in the formula is used only if needed to ensure the school district receives funding of at least 8% over what the district received in 2002. If you stop and think about the escalated cost of living and ever rising cost of doing business over the past 13 years, and consider the baseline funding for education in Mississippi is based on funding for 2002 + 8%, you should be able to clearly see that Initiative 42 is not asking for anything excessive.

Since MAEP was established as “adequate” under the 1997 law, placing “adequate” in the amendment to Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution ensures the Legislature honors this formula. As for the word “funding” not being used in Initiative 42, the word “funding” is not used in any of the options – Initiative 42, Initiative 42A, or the current wording of Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution. However, all three have the phrase “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support” of education, which implies funding. The word “funding” not being used in Initiative 42 is not a reason for alarm, and those who tell you that it is are simply trying to confuse the issue.

Concern #3: Mississippi is a poor state, so where will the money come from if Initiative 42 is passed?

Mississippi is a poor state, but that is even more reason for us to invest in education. The only way out of the quagmire of poverty is to have educated citizens. Through education, children who live in poverty have a chance to rise above unemployment, welfare, and minimal wage existences and adequately provide food, shelter, and clothing for their families. Education is the only chance they have for building the self-esteem and skills they need to rise above poverty!

Although Mississippi may be a poor state that does not mean Mississippi is not able to support funding education. At the end of the 2015 Mississippi Legislative session, Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn all advocated for phasing out state income tax. Why would they propose such action when state income tax accounts for approximately 40% of Mississippi’s total revenue each year? How can Mississippi manage if it loses 40% of its annual revenue? Does that mean the state can afford to cut its budget by 40% and still operate efficiently? Probably not! Does that mean there is enough surplus and other revenue producing resources available to efficiently run the state government without the 40% provided by state income taxes? Probably! We know for a fact there is a surplus in the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” so if Bryant, Reeves, and Gunn are to be believed, there are most likely other revenue producing ventures available to the state as well. Why else would they propose to eliminate 40% of the state’s revenue? The question is not can Mississippi afford to fund education; the question is does Mississippi want to fund education. Based on a state surplus as well as the proposed elimination of state income tax by state leadership, there is little doubt that reluctance to funding education is more in line with lack of motivation and will power than it is with lack of funding availability.

As for fears about the state cutting funding to other state agencies and raising taxes when Initiative 42 passes, those are scare tactics that have been used from day one by the opponents of Initiative 42. Cutting funding to other state agencies or raising taxes are being used by the Republican leadership in Jackson to confuse and divide the public on the education funding issue. These threats are coming from the same people who proposed eliminating state taxes! If Mississippi is so down and out financially that it would have to cut other agencies to fund education, what is the likelihood the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House would advocate for phasing out state income taxes? Not very likely! Instead, they would be advocating raising income taxes rather than getting rid of income taxes altogether! Again, based on the actions and comments of the state’s leadership, the likelihood of cutting other agencies or raising taxes are most likely to happen only if the state Legislature decides to be vindictive when Initiative 42 passes.

Concern #4: It is dangerous to place so much power in the hands of one judge in Hinds County. No one can say for sure what will happen or not happen.

An omniscient all powerful judge in Hinds County is another scare tactic used in an effort to defeat Initiative 42. No one can say for sure what will happen, and no one can promise what will or will not happen, but here are the facts about the chancery judge:

  1. Funding will not go before a chancery judge if the Legislature does its job and follows the law to fund education based on the MAEP formula;
  2. If a funding issue is brought before a chancery judge, it will be in Hinds County because the Legislature convenes in the city of Jackson, which is in Hinds County;
  3. Not that it should matter, but the chancery judge will not necessarily be black. Since there are two black judges and two white judges, there will be a 50/50 chance of a black or white judge hearing the case;
  4. “Adequate” funding has already been established by the 1997 law, so a judge will not decide what is meant by adequate;
  5. The judge will not determine how or where funding will be spent. Local school districts are responsible for the distribution of funds allotted to the district by the state; and
  6. Any decision made by the chancery judge can be appealed to the Mississippi State Supreme Court for the final decision.

Final Words:

I hope I have cleared up a little of the confusion. Come November 3, people will choose to accept the status quo as good enough for Mississippi, or they will vote for accountability for state lawmakers and education funding for our children and teachers. There is no in between. In the end, the decision will be left to each individual to decide what is best for them personally, what is best for the teachers and kids in the classroom, and ultimately what is best for Mississippi’s future. The one constant that everyone must remember is that there is little hope for a better tomorrow in Mississippi without at least an “adequate” education for our children.  Initiative 42 is a once in a lifetime chance for teachers, parents, and the citizens of Mississippi to make a difference in the future of our state. Hopefully, it is not a chance we will waste.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD, October 31, 2015

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Initiative 42: Are You Fed Up with being Manipulated Yet?

Initiative 42 is the result of nearly 200,000 Mississippians signing petitions to have an initiative placed on the November ballot to amend the state Constitution.   If passed, this citizen led initiative will hold the Mississippi Legislature accountable for keeping its promise to fully fund public schools, which the Legislature has fulfilled only twice in the past 18 years. That should be simple enough; however, Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn have used their power and position to help confuse the public about the Initiative. Why? Such action is contrary to statements the Governor has made in the past regarding the public’s role in education. For example, in a December 2, 2014 article by The Associated Press, Governor Bryant said the “public” is in charge of education. But, if he truly believes the public is in charge of education, why is he campaigning against the charge of close to 200,000 Mississippians?   He has also advocated for parental choice in education. However, if he is pro parent choice, why does he oppose Initiative 42, which is supported by parents who have made a “choice” to stand up for public school funding? If he truly believes in parent choice and believes the public is in charge of education, why hasn’t he stepped aside and let the public decide the issue without his political interference?

The reason is simple! In maybe the truest statement by the Republican leadership since the Initiative 42 debate began, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves in an October 22 article by Valerie Wells, published in the Hattiesburg American, stated Initiative 42 is a struggle for power rather than funding. “It’s not about funding,” Reeves said. “It’s about power.” Although Republicans would like for the public to believe Initiative 42 is about Democrats versus Republicans, black versus white, or a power hungry chancery court judge in Hinds County usurping the sovereignty of the state, those are simply smokescreens! The truth is as Reeves stated, “It’s about power.” For the political leadership in Jackson, this issue is about the power and control of the people to hold the state Legislature accountable to the law versus the power and control of the state Legislature to do as it pleases with no boundaries or accountability.

Although fear of losing “power and control” may be at the heart of the Republican opposition to Initiative 42, we must be careful their struggle to maintain power does not overshadow the original purpose of the grassroots initiative led by the people of Mississippi. Power was the furthest thing from the minds of the citizens who signed the petitions to place Initiative 42 on the ballot. Their intent was to help struggling teachers reach all children – poor, middle class, rich, black, and white; their intent was to keep public education alive. Unfortunately, at times, that intent seems to have been lost beneath the clouds of political smoke swirling around such issues as top heavy school districts and school consolidation. We need to save those discussions for another day. Besides, no one in Jackson has any intentions of tackling those political time bombs in the near future; such issues are simply there to confuse and divide the public.

In an era where a good education is a prerequisite for success in life, the idea anyone would not support funding education is mind boggling. At a time when Mississippi needs everyone working together to pull our state from the clutches of poverty by creating an educated work force with more options than unemployment or a minimum wage existence, it is unbelievable we have elected officials who refuse to make education a priority. In a state as untrusting of government as Mississippi, it is beyond belief the citizens would tolerate a governor and state legislators who believe they are above the law. At a time when the public has the opportunity to remind the state Legislature that they are not only in charge of public education as Governor Bryant says, but they are in charge of their elected representatives in Jackson as well, it is unthinkable politicians might actually get their way and not be held accountable to the law.

As a state, we should be ashamed for having this debate. It is disgraceful some would put politics above the needs of our children. It is appalling some people look for excuses not to support education rather than look for reasons to support it. It is disappointing Mississippi citizens needed to sign petitions to put an initiative on the ballot to force elected officials to do their jobs and follow the law. And, it is reprehensible public officials would use or condone the use of half-truths, fabrications, and scare tactics to misguide the public. It is unfortunate, but the current struggle for power and education funding resembles a throwback to the Mississippi of the 1950’s and 1960’s rather than the new enlightened Mississippi we have struggled to become since those dark days.

In spite of this apparent throwback, we are a more enlightened people! We have made tremendous strides since the 50’s and 60’s, but as the Initiative 42 issue has shown, we still have a long way to go in regard to our attitudes toward education, race, and our future. Too much of our past biases still lurk in who we are as a state. Hopefully, additional time will further eradicate those prejudices from us – at least from our children. Nevertheless, I believe for the most part Mississippians are good people who strive to do what is right. We are proud people often recognized as the most benevolent state in the nation! Mississippians are quick to come to the aid of others, whether they are in this country or countries halfway around the world. Mississippians have always generously given to those in need. It so happens, our children are the ones in need this time. It is time we looked in our own backyard and shared our benevolence with our own family. It is time we stood by our children and their teachers; there is no better place to share your generosity and compassion than with those who live in your backyard.

I pray the people of Mississippi will stand up for Initiative 42 and not be led astray by professional politicians with political agendas that often exclude what is best for our state. With Initiative 42, public school education has a chance to be funded as required by law; without it, the chances are slim and none. If you don’t want to vote for Initiative 42, that is your right, but if that is your choice, why not at least do the next best thing and vote those politicians committed to sabotaging public education out of office? Citizens concerned for education and the future of Mississippi need to send a message one way or the other that we are fed up with political manipulation not only at the federal level but at the state level as well.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD. October 29, 2015

Cut to the Chase: The Initiative 42 Bottom Line

Think about this for a moment:

If I had signed a contract with you 18 years ago for your services or products for $100.00 per year, you would expect to be paid $100.00 per year for that contract. Now suppose I had only paid you $100.00 a year twice in the past 18 years. For 14 of the remaining 16 years, I decided all I was going to pay you was $40.00 each year although the contract called for $100.00 each year. As you became more and more agitated that the contract was not being honored, I finally paid you $50.00 and $60.00 respectively for the past two years. On top of that, I boasted to everyone who would listen that in the last two years I had put more money into your business than in any time in history. Never mind, I short-changed you hundreds of dollars in 16 of the past 18 years that impacted your ability to attract quality employees, service your equipment, and repair your facilities. How well would that sit with you? If you had been consistently short-changed the money you were promised, what would you do? Wouldn’t you seek relief from the courts? Isn’t it a function of the courts to resolve such contractual malpractice?

The representation above illustrates exactly the bottom line for Initiative 42! In 1997, the Mississippi Legislature made a law (a promise) to fund Mississippi public school education based on the MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) formula, but they only honored the law twice over the next 18 years. I dare say, there are few people in this state or any other state who would have exercised the patience Mississippi educators exercised during those 18 years. In the business world and as private citizens, if someone refused to honor their monetary commitment to us, we would have sought relief through the courts long ago. However, educators did not because they kept hoping and praying the state Legislature would do the right thing and honor their commitment. Of course, they never did! So, since they repeatedly failed to honor their commitment to fund education, what recourse did legislators leave citizens and educators other than to go through the initiative process and seek relief through the courts? The legislators and their supporters can cry the citizens and educators are trying to circumvent the power of the Legislature by taking the funding issue to court all they want, but the truth is the initiative process is simply taking the next logical step to resolve a problem the Legislature created.

Initiative 42 is the result of the Mississippi Legislature’s failure to do its job! If legislators had honored their commitment (the law), there would not be a need for Initiative 42. But, year after year they have refused to honor the law! Governor Bryant can claim all he wants that historic amounts of money have been placed in education the past two years, but he cannot deny state legislators have failed to honor the law and fully fund MAEP during the same two years as well as in all but two of the preceding 16 years. They simply have not! As a result, nearly 200,000 Mississippi citizens signed a petition to get Initiative 42 on the ballot in a grassroots effort to get state legislators to honor their commitment to education. Even so, citizens and educators are hoping, even when Initiative 42 passes, that the legislators will do the right thing and honor the funding law rather than go to court. With Initiative 42, legislators will have the option of doing the right thing by following the law and fully funding the MAEP formula, or they can opt to ignore the law as they have done year after year and choose to send the funding issue to court. Under Initiative 42, whether a chancery court judge hears the issue or not is completely up to the state legislators.

Remember this, if you had a contract with someone to pay you for services, supplies or maintenance you provided, you would expect to be paid for those services. If that someone consistently refused to pay, eventually you would have no other recourse but to seek relief in the courts to get your money. Why shouldn’t school kids and teachers be entitled to the same relief? Also, you should think about this. What would happen if you refused to pay your state income taxes or ignored the income tax law completely? You can bet money your state government would not hesitate to fine you and drag you into court. So, if citizens must honor the law or face being taken to court, why shouldn’t their elected officials be expected to honor the law or face going to court as well? It is time we stopped hiding our heads in the sand while the Legislature picks and chooses the laws they want to honor. It’s time to pass Initiative 42, and make the Mississippi Legislature accountable to honoring the laws they pass.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 25, 2015

The Cat in the Hat Supports Initiative 42

I do not understand.
Why they say no way.
They signed on the line;
They agreed to pay.

But state Legislators refuse
To honor their education promise.
It doesn’t make sense
When it is such a simple premise!

See, it works like this,
Politicians make law
That everyone must follow
Even politicians and in-laws.

So, why the fuss?
It’s law; honor it!
Not to, doesn’t make sense
Not one little bit!

And then
Uncurling from his mat
Stretched and stood the Cat in the Hat!

We looked!
“It’s time,” said the Cat in the Hat.
We looked!
And saw a petition
In the hand of the Cat in the Hat!
And he said to us,
“Enough is enough, it’s as simple as that!”

“I know it’s hard,
And it won’t be easy.
So, don’t be afraid,
And please don’t get queasy!”

“We’ll place a petition on the ballot,”
Said the cat.
“For education we’ll take a stand.”
Said the Cat in the Hat.
“It’s the only option left to do.
Education won’t be adequately funded
Without Initiative 42.”

The teachers and children
Did not know what to say;
They’d never had a friend
To look after them that way.

But Governor Bryant said, “No! No!
Make that cat go away!
Tell that Cat in the Hat
We ain’t gonna pay!
He should not be here.
He should not be about!
He should not be here
Somebody please kick him out!”

“Now! Now! Have no fear.
Have no fear!” said the cat.
“It’s not a trick; it’s not bad,”
Said the Cat in the Hat.
“A little petition is all it is
With nearly 200,000 Mississippi names
Standing up for education
Tired of playing political games!”

“Throw it out!” said Tate Reeves.
“It’s not fair; not fair at all!”
“Throw it out!” cried Phillip Gunn.
“Initiative 42 will lead to our fall!”

“Have no fear!” said the cat.
“Initiative 42 rights a wrong.
Do your job, nothing to fear;
See a judge if the same old song.
Fund education as you promised,
And let that be that.
Fund education! We’ll leave you alone,”
Said the Cat in the Hat.

“Two can play that game!”
Said Reeves and Gunn.
“We’ll add confusion to the mix!
Initiative 42A will make it fun!”

“Look at this!
Look what you’ve done!” said the cat.
“The people don’t know if they’re between the A or T
Much less where they’re AT!
Should they choose 42 or 42A?
My oh my, what should they do?
You’re the Grinches who stole Christmas!
Mr. Gunn and Reeves, shame on you!

And look!
Now they’re running TV ads
That would scare even Stephen King!
Just to make Initiative 42 look bad!

Oh, no.
That is not all…
They tell us a black Democrat judge
Will cause Mississippi to fall!
He’ll spend school money as he pleases,
He’ll give it to his favorite schools!
And they tell us this
Because they think we’re all fools!

“But, have no fear,”
Said the cat.
“Initiative 42 is on the ballot,”
Said the Cat in the Hat.
“The ballot may look tricky,
But Mississippians are not fools;
They will see through the smoke
And vote for Initiative 42!”

The teachers and children
Did not know what to say;
They’d never had a friend
To look after them that way.

Adapted from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss by Jack Linton (October 24, 2015)

Ten Things I learned this Past Week about Supporting Initiative 42

This past week my previous blog, “Initiative 42: Misconceptions, Lies, and THE TRUTH,” lit up like a Christmas tree. My blog has some public outreach, but it is primarily written for friends and those they share it with when they deem it worthy of sharing. Occasionally it will also be picked up by other blogs or news groups. So, I was surprised by the literally thousands of visitors who read my blog this past week. The comments I received were a mixed bag of support for Initiative 42 as well as opposition, and I enjoyed the interaction for the most part. I was truly amazed at some of the things some people believe about the Initiative as well as what they believe about education in general. The amount of credibility given to hearsay was astounding, and I certainly did not realize there are so many legal and state Constitution experts milling around Mississippi.

However, I did learn some interesting things about people and their attitudes toward education. Believe me when I say, it was sometimes frightening. One thing I learned for sure is that Mississippi education needs a public relations person. It is apparent that many people never hear about the good things happening in Mississippi education; all they hear about are the negatives, but maybe that is all they want to hear. For example, look at some of the things readers taught me this past week about Initiative 42 and education as a whole in Mississippi.

Ten Things I learned this Past Week about Supporting Initiative 42

  1. I learned there are a lot of good people in Mississippi who are confused about Initiative 42.   Thank you Governor Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn for your leadership in misleading and confusing the issue;
  2. I learned some people are in favor of withholding education funding until such time they can be assured the money already available for education is spent wisely. Of course, that is like withholding money for maintenance on your roof until it caves in. There are state agencies responsible for fiscal responsibility, so why not demand those agencies monitor school expenditures more closely, and go after the districts wasting money (if any), but don’t punish all schools.  If people have firsthand knowledge of waste in schools, they should expose it and bring it to everyone’s attention, but don’t condemn all school districts for the actions of a few.  It is insanity to withhold education funds at the expense of children;
  3. I learned Jesus Christ could have written Initiative 42, and some people would still find excuses not to support it;
  4. I learned there are people who care more about Democrat vs Republican than they do about educating children;
  5. I learned there are teachers who are riding the fence on Initiative 42. It is unbelievable, but there are teachers who naively believe the scare tactics and half-truths portrayed as facts on television, who believe the negative hearsay, and who have made little, if any, effort to look at the issue for themselves. It is also unbelievable that there are educators who teach children to read, research, and be critical thinkers, but they don’t practice what they teach and preach;
  6. I learned that there are more lawyer wannabes in Mississippi than you can shake a stick at, and they do not mind sharing with you what they know as the legal gospel;
  7. I learned that Mississippi has an abundance of state Constitution experts even though these experts may have read only a tiny portion of the Constitution, none of it at all, or their expertise is based on what they have been told;
  8. I learned from these self-appointed legal and Constitution experts that a chancery judge has the authority to hire and fire teachers, consolidate schools, pick and choose the schools that will be funded, shut down other state agencies at his/her discretion, raise taxes, change the state flag to the LGBT flag, and forbid Santa Clause to fly over Mississippi air space.  They taught me the power of the chancery judge is unlimited, and if Mississippi doesn’t strike down Initiative 42, the chancery judge in Hinds County will have the power to disband the state Legislature, send the governor packing, and set himself up as the supreme governing authority in Mississippi;
  9. I learned many people can’t stop thinking about themselves and their pocketbooks long enough to understand that education is expensive but ignorance is even more expensive;
  10. BUT, the biggest thing I learned was that supporting Initiative 42 is well worth the fuss and putting up with the unfounded hysteria. This past week reinforced what I have always known – KIDS and TEACHERS are worth the fight!

With all the huffing and puffing surrounding Initiative 42, it is important to remember the Initiative is about teachers and kids, and it is about making education a priority in Mississippi. It is NOT about school administrators, school consolidation, a judge in Hinds County, or any other smokescreen the education naysayers insert into the discussion. It is also important to understand making education a priority is up to the voters for one reason and one reason only – the Mississippi Legislature has proven year after year that education IS NOT their priority. My only purpose in writing about this issue is to encourage teachers and parents to take a stand for education. Although Mississippi will continue to have school regardless of the outcome of the vote for Initiative 42, the question is will the schools have funding to give our children a quality education, or will Mississippi continue to treat education as an afterthought. Through Initiative 42 nearly 200,000 Mississippi citizens have already petitioned for education to be treated as a priority, and now it is time for all citizens and especially teachers to stand up and join the fight. The state Legislature is counting on teachers being timid, frightened, and apathetic on this issue. I sincerely pray that for once teachers will stand together and prove them wrong.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 17, 2015

Initiative 42: Misconceptions, Lies, and THE TRUTH

I have been asked to share my perspectives on Initiative 42. First, I am honored to have been asked since there are people who could share their insight much more eloquently. That I am a supporter of Initiative 42 is no secret. That I have been troubled by the underhanded actions of those opposed to the Initiative is also no secret. 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 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. I can only hope in these last days before the November election that more people will discover the truth and take issue with those trying so desperately to destroy public education in Mississippi.

Personally, professionally, and financially, I have nothing to gain by presenting my views on this issue other than the satisfaction of doing my best to help kids get a better education.   My purpose with this article is to separate the facts from the fiction. To do so, I have looked closely at both Initiatives 42 and 42A, researched news articles dealing with the debate over these issues, listened to people both for and against Initiative 42, and drawn, to a small extent, on my 37 years as an educator. In an effort to bring about clarity, I have broken the issue into two informative charts: Chart I: A Comparison of Initiative 42 Supporters and Opponents, and Chart II: Initiative 42, Misinformation and THE TRUTH. The charts represent the truth as I understand it, and they are backed by facts available to anyone with a little determination and willingness to research and read to get at the truth.

Chart I: A Comparison of Initiative 42 Supporters and Opponents

Public Education Funding Supporters Public Education Funding Opponents
History The state Legislature passed a law in 1997 that mandated that MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Plan) be fully funded each year. The legislators promised to provide each public school district in Mississippi enough financial support to adequately fund K-12 education. The state Legislature has honored the 1997 law only twice in 18 years.
At Issue Supporters want state legislators to be held accountable to the 1997 law. The state legislators claim they should not be held accountable to a law passed by a previous legislative session.   With the exception of two years, they have refused to fully fund public school education as required by the 1997 law.
Citizens vs state legislators Over 188,000 Mississippi citizens concerned that state legislators consistently ignored the 1997 MAEP law, signed petitions to place Initiative 42 on the November 2015 ballot. For the first time in Mississippi history the state legislators countered a citizen led initiative by placing Initiative 42A on the November ballot.
What does each Initiative do?
  • Initiative 42 requires legislators follow the law and fully fund public education based on the MAEP formula
  • Initiative 42 will protect each child’s fundamental educational rights through the 12th grade by amending Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the state maintain and support an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.
  • Initiative 42 will authorize a chancery court to enforce the law to adequately fund public schools   A court ruling would require the Legislature to follow the law/Constitution.
  • Initiative 42A basically changes nothing.
  • Initiative 42A will allow legislators to continue to ignore the law and fund education at their discretion.
  • Initiative 42A does not provide any additional funding nor does it require legislators to honor the 1997 funding law.
  • Initiative 42A provides no accountability for funding public education.
  • Initiative 42A is a political ploy to confuse the public.

Chart II: Initiative 42, Misinformation and THE TRUTH

Misinformation and Lies about Initiative 42 THE TRUTH
1 If Initiative 42 passes, one judge in Hinds County will have the final say on how school money is spent.

 

THE TRUTH: A Hinds County judge will not be needed if the Legislature fully funds MAEP. If the Legislature fails to fully fund MAEP, a Hinds County judge will hear the issue since Jackson is in Hinds County and that is where the state legislature convenes. Any decision the judge makes can be appealed to the State Supreme Court, so a single judge does not have the final decision. Finally, the judge cannot make decisions regarding how or where state education funding is spent. How education money is spent is a local school district decision.
2 If Initiative 42 passes, a judge in Hinds County will be able to take money from one school and give it to another. THE TRUTH: The idea that a judge could take money from one school and give it to another was fabricated by a political group opposed to Initiative 42.   As Sam Hall, writer for the Jackson Clarion Ledger said, “The ad by Improve Mississippi Political Initiative Committee is the worst kind of scare tactic and downright lie yet used. He went on to describe the ad as “the lowest kind of politics there is.”   There is nothing in Initiative 42 that gives a judge the authority to take money from one school district and give it to another school.
3 If Initiative 42 passes, one judge in Hinds County will have the power to force schools to consolidate, THE TRUTH: Nowhere in Initiative 42 is consolidation of school districts mentioned.   However, opponents of Initiative 42 want the public to believe that if they vote for Initiative 42, they will lose their school district. School consolidation falls under the power of the Governor and state legislators.   The Governor and state legislators decide when and if schools are to be consolidated.
4 If Initiative 42 is passed, increased funds will go to pay for administrator salaries and not go to the children in the classrooms. THE TRUTH: MAEP funds pay for teacher salaries and instructional materials. Administrator salaries are set by local school boards and are completely under local school district control.
5 If Initiative 42 is passed, the budgets of other state agencies will have to be cut. THE TRUTH: The petition signed by nearly 200,000 Mississippi citizens included a full description of a six to seven year phase in process. Therefore, passing Initiative 42 will not result in other state agency budgets being cut. Increases in school funding would also be dependent upon state revenue increases.
6 If Initiative 42 is passed, taxes will be raised. THE TRUTH: Raising taxes is not required if Initiative 42 passes. According to House Speaker, Phillip Gunn, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Mississippi has enough money to fund all state services without raising taxes. In fact, at the end of the 2015 legislative session, they rose in support of eliminating state income taxes altogether. If Mississippi can afford to eliminate state income taxes, which accounts for about 40% of the state’s revenue, it is safe to say there will not be a need to raise taxes to support education or any other state budget. Raising taxes is a scare tactic used by opponents of Initiative 42.

Whether readers take to heart what I have to say is up to each individual reader, but I am committed to support all children, and I can assure you I will sleep well the night of Tuesday, November 3, 2015, knowing I have voted for Initiative 42 because it is best for not only my grandchildren, but all Mississippi children as well. My alma mater has a slogan during football season, “Southern Miss to the Top!” Wouldn’t it be great if by November 3 we had all Mississippians shouting, “Initiative 42 to the Top!” I bet that would put an uncomfortable wad in the panties of Governor Bryant and other state legislators so set on underfunding public school education.

INITIATIVE 42 to the TOP!

JL

Jack Linton, October 9, 2015

Mississippi: A Sad State for Education

The 2015 Mississippi legislative session may have been one of the most contentious sessions between state legislators and state public school educators in the history of the state. Both groups agreed improvements were needed in Mississippi’s public schools, which should have brought about a unified effort to improve education in the state for the good of all children. However, instead of a rare collaborative effort between state legislators and state public school educators, the 2015 legislative session became a battleground. To put it accurately, the session became a sniper’s blood bath with legislators taking negative potshots at educators as educators once again took the abuse on the chin.

The early pre-session rumblings by legislators indicated they were ready to right what they deemed a failed public education system. That should have been a sign they were ready to work with state educators to improve public education in the state. As it turned out, that was not the case. Instead, the pre-session rumblings were a warning that what was about to happen to public education was not going to be pretty. Early in the 2015 session these rumblings turned into an outright assault on public schools as Republican legislators declared war against Mississippi educators.

Led by Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, Mississippi Speaker of the House, Phillip Gun, and House Education Chair, John L. Moore, the Mississippi Republican Party branded itself as the savior of Mississippi education. Their intentions were clear! They intended to rid Mississippi of the Common Core Standards that public schools had been working to implement for three years, reduce the power of the State Superintendent of Education, continue their push to privatize public education, silence educators who dared speak out against them, and ultimately take full control of public education. When it came to education, their attitude was they knew what was best for Mississippi children, and they did not need input from public school administrators and teachers who, in their minds, had failed the state’s children. Why should they listen to educators who, according to them, had proven themselves to be incompetent?

These men and women failed or refused to recognize the strides Mississippi had made in recent years to improve the quality of education for its children. Although there were still needed improvements, Mississippi educators had shown their commitment to making whatever improvements needed to be made. Great strides had been made in the quality of first year teachers graduating from state colleges and universities, high school graduation rates were improving in a state that traditionally viewed an eighth grade education as sufficient, and tremendous improvements had been made in the quality of professional development opportunities for teachers. For the first time in the state’s history, teachers were consistently and actively engaged in improving their profession for the good of all children. Teachers no longer could obtain a license to teach, get a teaching job, go to their classroom and close the door, and remain there unchallenged and often unmonitored until retirement. Change was happening slowly, but it was happening at the highest level physically and fiscally possible. To accelerate the progress, more teachers, assistant teachers and funding would be needed. However, the only thing that accelerated in Jackson was pointing fingers of blame at public school educators. Other than political rhetoric expounding their concerns for the state of education in Mississippi, they proved once again their commitment to Mississippi public school education was little more than a smoke and mirror illusion. Under the smokescreen of concern for public education, they bragged and continue to brag to the public how the 2015 legislative session increased education funding over the previous year while glossing over the fact they had once again failed to fully fund MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Plan) and comply with state law. They failed to tell the public that the 2015 education funding increase paled in comparison to the $1.7 billion public school education had been short changed since 2009. They failed to talk about the $1.3 billion in tax breaks they had granted Nissan to keep its plant in Mississippi although the majority of the Mississippi jobs Nissan had promised in return went to workers transplanted to Mississippi from other states. They failed to mention that the $1.3 billion in tax breaks and exemptions was money that could have been spent to educate Mississippi’s children. And, they failed to understand that Mississippi public schools need a break also?

Mississippi legislators and educators have no business being at war! They should be collaboratively working to improve public education for all children. In a state where 35% of its children live in poverty, there is no room for personal or political agendas when it comes to the education of children. State legislators can point fingers of blame and mouth condemnations at teachers all they want, but until they are willing to put money where their mouth is, education in Mississippi will continue to struggle and lag behind the rest of the nation – you cannot build a Cadillac or even a good minivan on a Nissan Versa budget.

The state legislators claim Mississippi is a poor state and cannot afford to fully fund public school education; they say they are doing the best they can do. Hogwash! Yes, Mississippi is a poor state, but if state legislators truly wanted to fully fund education, they would find a way to make it happen. The people in Jackson may be bull-headed, have misplaced priorities, and driven by a political agenda, but they are not stupid people. But, when the Speaker of the House, Phillip Gunn, announced during the same session public school education was once again underfunded that he is in favor of doing away with the state income tax, which accounts for approximately 40% of Mississippi’s total operating revenue, it is safe to assume he is either stupid, incompetent, politically motivated, or cognizant of other untapped revenue sources. An intelligent legislator responsive to the needs of the people would not make such a statement of support otherwise. So, if Mr. Gunn is not stupid, incompetent, or politically motivated, why not keep the state income tax and tap into those other revenue sources? It only stands to reason that if Mississippi can operate efficiently, including funding education, without state income tax as Mr. Gunn claims, the state should not have a problem adequately funding education as the law requires if it keeps the state income tax intact and taps into whatever other revenue sources Mr. Gunn has in mind.

Unfortunately, reluctance to fund education in Mississippi is not only a political issue; it is just as much a public issue. Underfunding Mississippi education goes much deeper than the personal and political agendas of state legislators and their thumbing their noses at the law. Reluctance to fully fund education is as much the fault of the public as it is state legislators. For example, a major problem in Mississippi is that when the word “funding” is used in conjunction with education, the public has been duped to immediately think pay raises for teachers, but that is not always the case. Although teachers should be paid better, the funding that is most needed in Mississippi is not for pay raises, but for new teacher positions, additional assistant teachers, books, supplies, and facilities to name a few basics that schools need to operate. In a state, where minimal wages are the standard, it is often difficult for hard working families to understand this. However, even if the public does not understand this, the state legislators in Jackson understand this all too well.

Across Mississippi, there are children who ride to school on buses that should have been parked and replaced years ago; there are children who try to learn in classrooms with the roof leaking on their desk; there are children who attend schools with broken windows, broken air conditioning, broken and rusted playground equipment; and there are children who attend schools where the facilities are in urgent need of repair or even demolished and rebuilt to provide a safe environment for teachers to teach and children to learn. Across the state, there are teachers who buy supplies with money out of their own pockets, and there are teachers who teach without textbooks – not by choice, but because the textbooks they have are falling apart and out of date. In an age where school shootings are not uncommon, Mississippi has schools without security systems as well as internal and external doors that do not lock; schools without police or security officers; and playgrounds with little or no protective fencing around them. The problem with education in Mississippi is not money hungry incompetent teachers as so many state legislators would have the public believe; the problem with education in Mississippi is state legislators who refuse to fulfill their commitment to fully fund education. The problem with education in Mississippi is state legislators who refuse to work collaboratively with educators for the good of Mississippi’s children.

Unfortunately, as disappointing as the current situation is for public school education in Mississippi, there is little reason to believe anything will change with the 2016 session unless there is a change in leadership. Regrettably, that is not likely to happen. Mississippi bleeds Republican red, and often that means politics takes precedent over our children. So, unless there is a change in the Republican agenda to privatize public school education, a change in their reluctance to fully fund education, or there are some unexpected upsets in the November election, there is little chance the 2016 legislative session will offer educators the funding and support they desperately need. This unlikelihood for change truly makes Mississippi a sad state for education and educators.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 3, 2015