The defeat of Initiative 42, Mississippi’s best hope to adequately fund K-12 public school education, was devastating to Mississippi public school educators and their many supporters. Since the defeat, the question has been, “What do we do next?” Like so many others, I questioned if there was any need to even try to fight the system any longer. However, after a lot of thought and soul searching, I am convinced that it is now more important than ever before to continue the fight. In fact, I have a plan of action that may sound far-fetched on the surface, but it just might work. The plan is at least a step to rekindle the flame that educators and parents must keep burning on this issue.
This week, the Powerball lottery is estimated to be at least 1.3 billion dollars! Since Governor Bryant seems adamant in his quest to reduce or completely eliminate state taxes, why not swap state taxes for a two dollar lottery tax? Such a tax would assess every family in the state an additional two dollars per family member to buy lottery tickets. (Okay, so the lottery plan is not exactly new, but I believe buying lottery tickets with state money rather than implementing a state lottery may be new, so please continue reading.) By buying over 2.94 million tickets and mathematically picking 2.94 million different number combinations, the chances of winning a Powerball lottery would increase dramatically.
Of course, there are people who might take issue with this plan as gambling, but isn’t any state funding a gamble lately? Governor Phil Bryant and House Speaker Phillip Gunn advocate reducing or eliminating state income taxes because apparently the state does not need the money, so it’s not like the money collected for lottery tickets would be needed elsewhere. The lottery ticket money would be an investment in K-12 public school education, and any money won through the lottery would be earmarked for education. Of course, earmarking anything in Mississippi might be considered a gamble, but heck, it’s only money, and if we listen to Bryant and Gunn, Mississippi has plenty of that, so why sweat spending a couple of dollars for each state citizen to play the lottery? When it comes to funding education, it’s all fun and games in Mississippi anyway.
Everyone knows funding K-12 education is a game the state leadership in Jackson has played for years, so why not play the lottery game as well? Year after year they gamble with the future of our children, so why not play the lottery and give public schools at least a mathematical chance for adequate funding? The odds of winning the lottery if a lottery ticket is bought on behalf of every Mississippi citizen would be equal to or better than the odds to adequately fund K-12 education through the state legislature. When it comes to adequately funding education, Mississippi Republican leaders have shown where they stand on the issue. They not only stand on the issue; they stomp on it with both feet. Their campaign of misinformation and outright deceit during the Initiative 42 debate and vote showed their lack of concern for education and integrity, as well as their willingness to dupe the people. Initiative 42 should have made it clear that a Republican led state legislature is not about to support anything short of privatization of K-12 education. So, since money spent on a lottery would essentially be filling the pockets of someone in the private sector, state legislators should readily accept the lottery plan.
The only practical solution to the education funding issue in Mississippi is to participate in some way in a lottery. It is the only education funding game that state public school educators and their students have a chance of winning. The plan to assess a two dollar education investment tax on every man, woman, and child in the state to be used by the state to buy lottery tickets, may at first appear to be frivolous and pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but is it really? Mississippi educators have put their dreams and trust for a better tomorrow for the state’s children in the hands of the Mississippi Legislature for years with little to show for it. With a lottery ticket, although the odds would still be stacked against adequate funding, at least there would be a “snowball’s chance in hell” for adequate education funding in the future. Putting our trust and dreams in the state legislature has failed us miserably, so why not buy a ticket for the lottery where there is actually a mathematical chance for Mississippi’s teachers and children to win?
It is still early in the 2016 legislative session, so there is always hope for improved education funding, but past experiences tell us not to get our hopes up. With hair brain schemes to eliminate state taxes and make more public school dollars available to private schools, anything close to adequate funding is not looking good for public schools. The only hope and prayer for K-12 education is for an outlier Republican legislator (not sure if such a creature exists) or a Democrat legislator who has yet to give up the ghost (such a creature is definitely mythical in Mississippi) embraces the wisdom behind the state purchasing massive blocks of Powerball tickets from Louisiana to bolster education funding. However, even if enough support could be garnered for such a plan, and the legislature designated lottery winnings go to K-12 public school education, everybody knows there is no guarantee the state Legislature would stand by such a commitment.
Commitments to education funding are arbitrary in Mississippi. As long as state legislators are not bound by the commitments of preceding legislatures or by their own laws, it will remain so. Presently, any device or action orchestrated by legislative action to boost education funding can be argued in subsequent years as nonbinding. Legislators can and have successfully argued that the current legislature cannot be fiscally bound to the fiscal commitment of a previous legislature (i.e. MAEP funding). In the case of a lottery, that would mean if a Mississippi ticket won the lottery, state legislators would most likely rescind all or part of their commitment to education and place 50% of the winnings in the state rainy day fund, give 35% of the winnings to the corporate world, keep 10% of the winnings for legislative expenses to organize and implement the lottery plan, and send the remaining 5% of the winnings to the public school districts. Afterwards legislators would brag about the financial windfall they had engineered for the good of Mississippi’s children and teachers. Sadly, the public would buy it. Educators would meekly take their windfall and continue to do the best they could with what they have. However, on the positive, Mississippi might jump from 50th in per student education expenditure to 48th in the nation, so bring on the lottery! After the defeat of Initiative 42, at least a lottery might once again give Mississippi educators and their supporters some hope for a better future for Mississippi’s children. Under our present leadership, a lottery is by far our greatest mathematical chance for adequately funding education in Mississippi.
©Jack Linton, PhD January 12, 2016