Tag Archives: Initiative 42

House Bill 957:  Same Song Different Verse

Does it ever end?  From Mississippi Senator Angela Hill’s bill to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education to Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn’s bill to bounce the MAEP education funding formula for a new less expensive formula, the assault on Mississippi Public Schools goes on, and on, and on.  Since 2013, to inform people of efforts in Jackson to weaken and dismantle public schools, I have written enough for a book on the plight of public education in Mississippi.  For those who have listened, I along with many others have written and warned about what is happening, and true to those warnings, the nightmares are becoming reality.  With little to no input from state educators, legislating and railroading changes to public schools that are not always in the best interests of children and teachers appear to be escalating.  In Mr. Gunn’s case, he has done everything from writing a new education funding formula to handpicking the man who could push his bill through the House to the Senate in record time.  Never mind the bill contains issues, and it is less than complete as acknowledged by the House Education Committee Chair.  According to state leadership, those are trivial things that can be worked out later.  Right, and we can believe teacher pay in Mississippi will be raised to the national average in the near future!  As for Mrs. Hill, buying into the reasoning behind her chaotic idea to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education makes about as much sense as conceding all government control to local independent fiefdoms, but maybe chaos is her end game – at least for public schools.

There is a little more rationality in Mr. Gunn’s proposal.  He argues the MAEP formula was written almost twenty years ago and has failed to keep up with classroom needs.  He is partially right.  MAEP became law in 1997, but what the public does not hear him say is the formula has failed to keep up with classroom needs because it has been fully funded only twice in those twenty years.  It is Phillip Gunn and his fellow legislators who have failed to meet the needs of the classroom – not the current funding formula!

Why should anyone with a lick of common sense believe a new formula will fare better?  Two maybe three years down the road, 2020 maybe 2021, we are likely to hear once again legislators cannot be held accountable to an education funding bill passed by a previous legislature – only then, they will be talking about the 2018 Legislature.  State legislators have successfully gone down that road before, so why should they stray from a proven path.  They won’t, especially when they have duped the public into believing public school educators are the bad guys and private and school choice hungry legislators are the saviors.

I do not suggest all legislators are at war against public schools; there are a few who stand by state educators.  Those few are the reason Richard Bennett, Republican Representative from Long Beach, was handpicked by Gunn as the new House Education Committee Chair.  As a colleague and friend, Gunn knew Bennett was not likely to be swayed to any degree by those few dissenting voices.  From day one, not only did Bennet blindly champion Gunn’s funding bill, he did all within his power to railroad the bill into law.  By his own admission, he has never read the MAEP formula, so he really doesn’t know if the new bill is better or not.  His job was to run Gunn’s bill through the motions and get it to the Senate quickly with as few questions as possible.

Thank goodness there were a few legislators in the House who asked, “Why the rush?” For Gunn and Bennet that was simple, push hard and fast, and don’t allow time for study and knowledgeable pushback that might delay the bill’s passage.  As Democratic Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford noted, the 354-page bill was filed Thursday, January 11; dropped to the House floor Tuesday, January 16; and passed on to the Senate Thursday, January 18.  In comparison to time frames legislators usually work under, that is a remarkable achievement.  Such swiftness and urgency are almost unheard of, especially with a funding bill that should be studied, discussed, and tweaked often prior to any vote.  Instead, Bennet asked the House to fast track the overhaul of the public school funding formula.  He told lawmakers they would have two years to work out any discrepancies or problems in the bill, so they shouldn’t worry about any issues – just pass it.  Does that mean once passed they can manipulate the law anyway they choose?  Of course, it does; they’ve been doing that for years.

This smells strangely of deeds that should be scraped from shoes before entering the house.  Why soil the carpet when it is simpler to clean the mess at the door?  For whatever reason, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Gunn have chosen not to do so, but Mr. Bennet has given his word they will clean up their act over the next two years.  He seems to think his word is good enough, but he has been in Jackson long enough to know better.  Teachers were given the word of state legislators in 1997, but legislators honored their word only twice over the next two decades.  Why should anyone who believes in and supports public education in this state believe Mr. Bennet now?  He is most likely an honorable man, but educators in this state have been bitten too many times in past years by legislators professing to be honorable men.  If you need a reminder of leadership ethics in Mississippi, think back to Initiative 42, and the boatload of mistruths used to confuse and divide the public’s support of public schools.

“We’re going to work through it,” Bennett said.  “This is not something cut in stone.”  Maybe so, but I for one will have to see it to believe it.  True, HB 957 may be an attempt by the legislature, as some have suggested, to apologize for years of inadequate funding and compromise with a formula that provides a watered down though more realistic funding formula in the eyes of legislators.  If that is so, House Bill 957 may be a bullet all educators have to bite and learn to live with at some point.  However, it does not make it easy when the process is surrounded by haste, isolation, and secrecy.  Trust means inclusion and respect, which is something public school educators have rarely received from state legislators.  It’s not easy to trust when educators have watched helplessly as other legislative promises that were cut in stone crumbled under them.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 20, 2018

Warning Shot Fired at State Educators by Mississippi Legislature

After House Bill (HB) 449 in 2015 and HB 49 in 2016 failed to become law and silence state educators, the Mississippi Legislature may have delivered a coup de gras with the recent passage of HB 1643, Section 44.  Section 44 reads . . .

“None of the funds provided herein may be expended to make payments or transfers to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. Furthermore, none of the funds provided herein may be expended if any local school district expends any public funds to make payments or transfers to the Association.”

Over the years, the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents (MASS) has been a major education liaison between educators and the Mississippi Legislature.  After July 1, 2016, Section 44 may put an end to that relationship, but as grave as the loss of an association devoted to promoting and improving education may be, the gravest consequence of Section 44 may well be the silencing of educator voices across Mississippi.  By prohibiting payments from public funds to MASS and threatening to withhold state funds to any local district violating Section 44, the legislature fired a warning shot aimed at all state educators.  They sent a strong message that if any educator dares side or speak against them, as some superintendents did during the controversial and heated Initiative 42 campaign in the fall of 2015, there will be consequences to pay.

Bill author, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R–Poplarville, made it clear Section 44 of the bill is retaliation for what he called personal attacks against state officials by state school district superintendents during the Initiative 42 campaign.  He said, “When they attack people like that, they’re biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that.”  However, the record supports the problem goes much deeper than Initiative 42.  Prior to the Initiative, House Education Chairman, John L. Moore introduced HB 449 in the 2015 legislative session that threatened to penalize educators $10,000 dollars for exercising their freedom of speech on school related issues.  He renewed his effort to silence educators in the 2016 legislative session when he introduced HB 49, which was basically a repeat of his failed 2015 bill.  The objective of both bills was to silence the voice of educators across the state who spoke in protest against state legislators who refused to honor the law and fully fund education.

Frierson said, “There’s very little trust between the leadership and school administrators and most of it goes back to the 42 campaign.”  He is right; little trust exists between state leadership and educators in general, and the vindictiveness of HB 1643, Section 44 will do nothing to build trust between the two factions.  The distrust between the two, which began long before Initiative 42, will only grow deeper as a result of such pettiness.  This rift began when state legislators repeatedly went back on their word to fully fund MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program), and refused to work and listen to state educators on education issues.  This divide escalated with Initiative 42 when legislators placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which confused the issue and made it difficult at best for the Initiative to pass.  Trust between the two deteriorated further when legislators misled state voters with threats of budget cuts to other agencies if the Initiative passed – cuts that nevertheless became a reality after the Initiative was defeated.

HB 1643, Section 44 was a stroke of political genius.  By taking a less direct route than Moore and embedding the retaliatory action against school superintendents in the appropriations bill, Frierson kept his intentions under the radar as a part of the greater bill.  However, the impact on educators will be everything Moore hoped for, if not more.  Section 44 is most likely a death blow to MASS, and due to fear of reprisals against them, it may likely usher the end of educators speaking out for fairness, integrity, and common sense on education issues.  As Frierson would say, “If it does, it does.”  After all, why should free speech stand in the way of the greater power of the state legislature?

It is ironic some of the exact things the Mississippi leadership detests most about the federal government are forced on Mississippi citizens by the state leadership.  They detest the federal government usurping the power of local government, yet Section 44 tells local school districts how to spend local dollars.  They openly despise Common Core Standards because they argue the federal government bullied schools into using the standards or risk losing federal funds.  Doesn’t Section 44 do the same when it threatens to withhold state funds from local school districts that fail to take part in the legislature’s vendetta against the superintendent’s association?  It appears the Mississippi Legislature may be as power hungry if not more so than the federal government they rail so vehemently against.

Isn’t it also ironic America’s most basic right, free speech, is the right many Mississippi legislators want to strip from state educators?  In the United States of America (Mississippi is a part of the United States), instead of reprisals against free speech, shouldn’t there be reprisals against those who advocate such?  However, retaliation against either side will not resolve this issue.  As Frierson said the issues boil down to trust, and at this time neither the legislature nor state educators trust the other to do their jobs effectively.

After the defeat of Initiative 42, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves spoke about pulling both sides together as a family.  That has not happened.  All anyone needs to do is examine such bills as HB 49 and Section 44 of HB 1643 to see educators are not regarded as family by the state legislature.  If they were family, legislators would be more inclined to listen to them, and not try to silence them.  However, maybe Mr. Reeves’ words were for show only, and what Frierson, Moore and many others in the legislature really want is for educators to prostrate themselves before them.  If so, who is next – small business owners?  Ministers?   Simply put, Section 44 is nothing less than heavy handed tyranny that should scare all Mississippians into waking up!

JL

©Jack Linton, June 4, 2016

“The Not So Secret, Secret” Revisited: ALEC’s Dismantling of Public Education

In March 2014, I published an article, “The Not So Secret, Secret,” concerning the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) shadowy presence in Mississippi politics.  A few people took notice, but for the most part, the article was ignored.  Two years ago, such an article brought about visions of conspiracies and backroom cloak and dagger meetings that most people felt were more likely to happen in the movies or in some non-democratic third world country, but surely not in Mississippi.  In March 2014, most educators could not imagine in their wildest dreams the extent they would be betrayed by their elected officials in the following months.  After all, this was Mississippi, the state of hospitality, integrity, and a sense of fairness unparalleled anywhere in the nation.  Most Mississippians believed their legislators stood firm against outside interference; they believed there was no way Mississippi state representatives and senators could fall under the spell of an outside organization such as ALEC.  However, by now, Mississippians should know better!

In the past few months, Mississippi educators have witnessed an escalated assault on public education in the state.  This assault has been directly influenced by the ALEC agenda and carried out by ALEC members such as Mississippi Speaker of the House, Phillip Gun.  These assaults will most likely continue until all that is left of Mississippi public schools are holding pens for children discarded by the newly privatized system.  ALEC is not about the good of Mississippi!  It is about power and the men and women who embrace that power.  It is about keeping people in their place, especially if those people do not conform to the same beliefs and attributes as those in power.

Therefore, I am republishing the 2014 article in hopes the message may, this time, be clearer to educators and the Mississippi public.   I hope readers will pause to look at what has happened since March 2014.  I hope they recall the underhanded way the Initiative 42 issue was handled by the state leadership in Jackson!  I hope they will look at the quantity of frivolous and frightening education bills that have been proposed over the past two years.  When they read about the model bills ALEC provides to its members as legislative templates, I hope they will associate those templates with bills that are more interested in silencing public school educators and getting them under the absolute control of the state legislature than improving education.   Finally, this time, before the reader says this is not happening or can’t happen in Mississippi, I hope readers will take a long hard look at what has happened in just the past twenty-four months.

This article is no longer a warning!  ALEC is here, and if left unchallenged, its agenda will eventually destroy public education in Mississippi.  We cannot afford to continue to ignore that possibility or ignore ALEC’s presence and influence in our state.

JL

©Jack Linton   March 25, 2016

The Not So Secret, Secret

[First published March 2014]

Have you ever wondered what is truly behind the anti-teacher and anti-education rhetoric continually flowing out of Jackson?  Have you ever wondered why it seems the state leadership in Jackson has declared war against teachers and education in general across the state?  Have you ever wondered what is truly behind the push to privatize public education?  The answer to these questions is probably one of the best kept non-secrets in Mississippi, but every Mississippian needs to know about this not so secret, secret.  They need to understand that the crusade to link parent choice to privatizing Mississippi public education has not happened by chance nor did it happen overnight.  It is actually a part of an agenda that was put into place a little over forty years ago aimed at privatizing education across the United States; an agenda that has been called radical, dangerous, and a threat to American democracy.  Some people may not believe what I am saying, but if you are an educator, you need to heed what I am about to disclose and understand whether you like it or not, you are at war.  The war I am talking about is a long burning ember that has erupted into a full-scale blaze that threatens the very existence of public school education not only in Mississippi but across the nation.

First, I must admit I was in the dark as much as anyone else until about three years ago.  I was talking to a friend who was a high school principal in Louisiana at the time, and as usual we were discussing the good and bad about education in our states.  We were rocking along nicely exchanging stories when my friend asked me what I thought about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.  My response was an unknowing, “Who?”  He laughed and said, “Get ready.  They already have a strong foothold in your legislature, so you need to pay attention.  This group is probably the greatest threat to public education in history.”  Despite my friend’s on-the-money warning, I did not pay much attention even when he told me a central theme to ALEC’s education agenda was privatizing public schools.  I just did not believe at the time that privatizing public education in Mississippi held any merit or even if it did, that such a notion had a “snowball’s chance in hades” of taking root here.  I still believe I was right about the lack of merit, but boy, was I ever more wrong about that snowball.

That snowball’s chance has exploded in the face of Mississippi’s public school educators.  ALEC and its Mississippi legislator members are running roughshod over the public schools by ramrodding charter schools, vouchers, tax deductions for private school tuition and home schooling expenses, and special education vouchers down the throats of local school districts by declaring public schools in Mississippi are “educationally bankrupt.”  Claiming their actions are in the best interest of Mississippi children, they are in effect funneling public tax dollars into private schools (vouchers) and into private for profit ventures (charter schools).  To bring this about, ALEC has brought state legislators and corporations together to form an education task force that drafts model bills that are intended to be introduced at the state level.  At the state level, ALEC members or those affiliated with the organization in the house and senate insert applicable state language into the model bill that in effect makes the bill look like original legislation introduced by local politicians.  This is not only happening in Mississippi, but it is happening in state after state across the nation.  A common strategy is to introduce education bills in mass to prevent opponents of the bills from blocking all of them at one time.  If you look back at the number of education bills that have been introduced in Jackson over the past two or three years, it is easy to see that this strategy has been in play in Mississippi for quite some time.  The bottom line is that this organization is undermining public education by draining public education dollars from the public school system to subsidize private schools and private tutoring as well as lining the pockets of for-profit corporate-run charter schools.

What I am about to say may offend some, and cause others to scream party partisanship on my part.  However, I can assure you that I have little regard for the failed political platforms of either the Republican or Democrat parties.  However, be that as it may, simply stated, ALEC is a marriage between large corporations and conservative Republicans in the house and the senate (ALEC membership is overwhelmingly Republican).  These large corporations buy seats on the education task force where they receive tax breaks for donations, privately vote on model legislation, and influence the task force with their corporate agendas.  On the other hand, the conservative Republicans get to flaunt their brilliance for policy innovation without disclosing their bills were first crafted by the corporate world for the purpose of expanding their profit margins at the expense of Mississippi taxpayers (I have listed resources at the conclusion of this blog that provide lists of Mississippi legislators who are or have been affiliated with ALEC).  Renowned education historian, Diane Ravitch, clearly sums up the role ALEC has in the current crusade against public education when she says,

“This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the  work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.  Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators.  Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.”

But why would anyone or any organization want to destroy public education?  What is their motivation?  In February 2012, Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead wrote about the dismantling of the public school system in Phi Delta Kappan.  In that article, they said,

“The motivation for dismantling the public education system—creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone—is ideological, and it is motivated by profit. The corporate members on ALEC’s education task force include representatives from the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater Institute, Evergreen Education Group, Washington Policy Center, and corporations providing education services such as Sylvan Learning and K- 12, Inc.  All stand to benefit from public funding sent in their direction.”

If this is indeed true, and current legislation in the Mississippi legislature certainly seems to support that it is, then we can only assume that if corporations stand to profit from privatizing public education, maybe some of their membership stands to profit as well.

When it comes to politics very little ever happens by chance, and the current state of affairs with education politics in Jackson is no different.  The only “chance” in play in Mississippi is the chance that Mississippians are taking by not paying attention to what is happening in the Mississippi senate and house chambers.  I have always been a believer in capitalism, but I never thought I would live to see the day that some in our state legislature would be transformed from serving children to serving private for profit greed.  It is time Mississippians started paying attention and responding with their votes before it is too late.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 2014

 

Resources you may be interested in reviewing:

 

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Mississippi_ALEC_Politicians

 

This is a partial list of Mississippi politicians that are known to be involved in, or             previously involved in, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is a             partial list.  You may wish to call your state legislator and ask about ALEC.

 

http://www.alec.org/

 

American Legislative Exchange Council – website.  You may want to look at some of their model education bills.  You might be surprised  see some of the same bills that have been introduced in Mississippi recently.

http://www.alternet.org/story/155257/what_you_need_to_know_about_alec

What You Need To Know About ALEC.  The now embattled organization has been working to destroy public ed for the past forty    years. Here’s   what you need to know about how they’re doing it.

By Diane Ravitch

 

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/03/01/kappan_underwood.html

 

A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education:  Coordinated efforts to introduce model             legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of         this conservative organization.

 

By Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead, Phi Delta Kappan

 

http://alecexposed.org/w/images/7/7b/ALEC_on_Education_2.pdf

Mississippi’s Next Best Chance to Adequately Fund Public Schools

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.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD  January 12, 2016

Christmas Wish Lists for Teachers, Students, Parents, and State Legislators

Before Santa arrives in a couple of days, I am sending him the following Christmas Wish Lists. I hope his sleigh is not too overloaded to at least squeeze in a few of these Holiday wishes. Regardless, all of us need to be thankful for the many blessings we already have, and rejoice with the opportunity a new year brings to dream of the possibility of better days ahead.

Christmas Wish Lists:

Teachers’ Christmas Wish List for State Legislators:

  1. SUPPORT AND RESPECT FOR TEACHERS: Teachers desperately need – Mississippi desperately needs – a year where state legislators support teachers and public school education instead of putting both at the top of their hit list;
  2. ADEQUATELY FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION: After the heated battle and close defeat of Initiative 42, teachers need a sign from state legislators that they care about teachers and public education. Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves said after the defeat of Imitative 42 that teachers are not the Legislature’s enemy, and he called for a time of reassurance and healing. Did he mean what he said? Finding a way to increase public school funding would certainly serve as evidence that he was serious and not just spouting more political rhetoric;
  3. TRUST OF TEACHERS: Teachers need to be heard! Hopefully, 2016 will be the year state legislators treat teachers as trusted professionals and listen to their views on education as closely as they listen to the views of non-educators in the public;
  4. IMPARTIAL/FAIR DECISION MAKING: To be fair and impartial, state or Federal legislators who send their children to private schools should not be allowed to have a voice in the public school discussion. Their choice to send their children to private schools shows a lack of commitment to resolving public education issues in favor of deserting the ship completely. Their choice also represents a potential conflict of interest that is compounded by a conscious or unconscious bias toward public education;
  5. ACCOUNTABILITY EQUITY: If teachers are to be held accountable for the success of students in the classroom, state legislators should be held accountable for providing the resources and support teachers need to do their job, and parents should be held accountable for providing support and a learning environment in the home. It is time we embrace the fact that when schools fail, it is a collaborative effort by teachers, parents, students, legislators, universities, and even society. To correct the inadequacies in public school education, we must first recognize that we are dealing with a widespread human epidemic and not just an incompetent teacher problem.

 

Teachers’ Christmas Wish List for Parents:

  1. BE POSITIVE ABOUT SCHOOL: At home, parents should be positive about school. If they speak negatively about school and teachers at the dinner table, their child will carry that negativity to school;
  2. BE THERE FOR CHILDREN: The most positive and lasting imprint on children is a parent who is always there for them. Children do not need parents who make excuses for them. They need parents who are adults and not best friends. They need parents who hold them accountable for their actions. They need parents who understand that today’s excuses may be crippling their child’s future;
  3. MODEL LEARNING IN THE HOME: Parents need to turn off the television and let their children see them read a book! Parents need to take their children to something other than a ball game or the movie. They need to visit a museum, an art gallery, or hike a trail with their children. Parents need to make learning an active part of the home;
  4. TRAIN CHILDREN EARLY: Parents should train children from an early age to get up and go to school. They should train their children to be on time to school. If such simple training does not exist in a child’s early life, the consequences could impair their ability to maintain a job and make a living for themselves and their family later in life; and
  5. MUTUAL RESPECT: Nothing positive is ever accomplished through yelling and abusive language. In today’s world, both teachers and parents have a difficult job, and the only way to make it less difficult is for teachers and parents to work together. The primary function of a teacher and a parent is to build a better human being, and that can only be accomplished through mutual respect between teachers and parents and love for the child.

 

Students’ Christmas Wish List for Teachers:

[Note: These are actual student wishes I collected over my years in education.]

  1. GET RID OF TIME WASTERS: I once asked a group of high school students the following question, “What is one thing you would tell your teachers they could do to improve your classroom experience?” Their number one response was “Quit wasting my time!” They told me teachers should get rid of time wasters such as worksheets, classwork and homework that are rarely discussed, quiet time in class, free time in class, and boring movies that sometimes go on for two or three days. They said they hated assignments that were obviously given for no other purpose but to keep students busy and quiet;
  2. THE TEACHER’S UNDIVIDED PRESENCE: Students want teachers to act like they want to be a teacher! They do not respect teachers who through action or words make it known that they are a teacher only until they find something better to do. Kids know when teachers would rather be somewhere else;
  3. CONSISTENCY IN THE CLASSROOM: When it comes to discipline, students want teachers to be consistent and fair. Teachers should not write a student up today for something they let the student get away with yesterday. If it wasn’t bad enough for the student to be written up and sent to the office Monday, the same behavior shouldn’t be bad enough to write up and send the student to the office Tuesday;
  4. RESPECT FOR ALL STUDENTS: Students want teachers to respect them for who they are – not who the teacher wants them to be; and
  5. CHALLENGE ME: Students, especially high school students, want teachers to make their time in class worthwhile! Don’t just give them information; teach them to apply and use the information. Teach them how to learn!

 

Parents Christmas Wish List for Teachers and State Legislators:

  1. TEACHERS: Treat my child like you would treat your child in your classroom;
  2. TEACHERS: Communicate with me regularly. Please call me! While email is a convenient means of communicating, it is also the most impersonal form of communication. Keep me informed!
  3. TEACHERS: Treat me with the same respect you expect me to treat you! Don’t talk down to me because you think I am uneducated or a poor parent;
  4. LEGISLATORS: Quit pointing fingers of blame at teachers and parents! Quit talking, listen, and put money for education where your mouth is!
  5. LEGISLATORS: Model accountability! Be as accountable for your actions as you want teachers and parents to be.

 

Legislators’ Christmas Wish List for Teachers and Parents:

SORRY, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out what our state legislators really want! Lately, it seems the only thing they want or need is our vote. Once they have that, they pretty much write their own wish list and do as they please.

Oops! That was certainly not in the Christmas spirit, but maybe by this time next year things will be different and more positive between educators and state legislators. At least that is my Christmas wish.

 

I hope each of you (yes, even state legislators) has a Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year wrapped in all of God’s blessings! Until 2016, this is JL signing off.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD December 22, 2015

Petal School District Tells the Nation, “We are not last!”

Extra, Extra, read all about it! The Petal School District in Petal, Mississippi proves its students can compete nationally! The scores recently released from the spring 2015 PARCC assessments show Petal students scored above the state average as well as above the national average. In a state regarded as an academic bottom dweller, and academically hailed by its own Governor as a “dismal failure,” this news is simply amazing! So, how did this happen? Was it luck, or was the assessment flawed? Neither! The success of the Petal School District is the result of high expectations and hard work by students, teachers, parents, school administrators, and the community. Despite a less than education friendly state legislature, a statewide backwoods aversion to rigorous curriculum standards, and inadequate state public school funding, the Petal School District continued to be successful by putting the needs of children first.

The educators in Petal thumbed their noses at education floggers in the Mississippi Legislature, parents who cried homework was too hard, and a public more interested in their pocketbooks than funding education. They showed what can happen when kids have adults – teachers, school administrators, parents, and the community – who believe in them. The school district demonstrated that success in school is a lot like Christmas; it begins with faith and believing – faith in teachers and believing all kids can learn. Maybe, if state leaders demonstrated the same faith and support for educators and a stronger belief in the ability of Mississippi children to learn, all Mississippi children would have a chance at the same success. .

Many years ago, Petal took a leap of faith out of concern for the education of its children, and that faith and belief that a good education is at the core of success in life have propelled this small community to the forefront of public school education in Mississippi. Petal is an example of what can happen when everyone in the school district and the community commit themselves to common education beliefs. In Petal, high educational expectations are not confined within the walls of the schoolhouse; the same high expectations are held by the community, a major reason for the success of the school district. As a result, although the district feels the sting from the lack of support and insufficient funding at the state level, the district is not crippled or held hostage by the state’s indifference. When it comes to education, Petal’s unwavering commitment to children carries it through the hard times. It is sad the Mississippi Legislature does not have such a commitment.

The Petal School District and community should celebrate and be proud of their historic accomplishment. For the first time, Mississippi children had an opportunity to showcase with other children across the nation, and though the results show Mississippi has work to do, successes like Petal show Mississippi does not have to be last. For children and teachers to be able to compare themselves to other children and teachers across the nation is an invaluable tool. Unfortunately, the Governor and the state legislature did not see it as such and forced the Mississippi Department of Education to drop the PARCC assessment for a less rigorous, more Mississippi friendly assessment. Mississippi school children do not need a watered down Mississippi friendly assessment that will serve only to once again produce an unrealistic sense of accomplishment and success. In an age of escalating knowledge and constantly changing career opportunities, our children should be challenged to rise above the ingrained idea that “if it was good enough for my mama and daddy and their mama and daddy, it is good enough for me.” Our children are better than that; our children must be better than that to have the lives we dream and work for them to have. Thankfully, Mississippi school districts such as Petal recognize this and do everything humanly and fiscally within their means to challenge and prepare children to compete not only nationally but globally.

Although not perfect, the PARCC assessment provided a truer picture of where Mississippi students stand academically as compared with other students across the nation. It gave a more realistic picture of student strengths and weaknesses than any of the previous Mississippi friendly as well as educator friendly assessments the state has administered. It is deeply troubling that Mississippi leaders objected to such a potentially motivating and strategic educational tool; I can’t help but wonder what it is about Mississippi children that our state leaders do not believe in or want to hide. I am fairly certain though that whichever it is will be well hidden by the new state assessments; at least to those who choose to review it with a blind eye.

Regardless, school districts such as Petal will continue to thrive even with a watered down assessment; it will just make success a little more difficult. The Petal School District holds to a set of core learning principles that guide everything it does with the belief that all children can learn at the center of those principles. That belief is not a paper belief, but a real breathing conviction that children come first. It is a belief that the leadership in Jackson would do well to replicate. If the public and state leadership had the same unwavering commitment to put children first, Mississippi could move mountains. However, until such a glorious day arrives, it will take school districts like Petal to dare thumb their noses at the naysayers and dare say, “It’s for the kids!”

Congratulations Petal! You have once again made us proud! You have given hope for a brighter future for all Mississippi children during this Christmas season. Merry Christmas, and May God continue to bless the school district, the educators who work so hard for children, and the community that supports them so well.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD   December 19, 2015

School Free: Eliminate Public Schools in the United States

I have been thinking about the recent Mississippi vote against fully funding public school education. I realize it does little good to rehash old wounds, but sometimes a second look is warranted. That is especially true in light of the emotions that flowed so freely on both sides of the issue in the days leading up to the vote. So, putting aside the confusion caused by the ballot and the chancery judge issues that dominated the discussion prior the people’s decision, I took a second long look at the main reasons people gave for voting against fully funding education. The primary issues I looked into were school consolidation, over paid school administrators, throwing money at education, and lack of performance and fiscal accountability. Rather than focus solely on Mississippi, I decided to take it one step further and examine how Mississippi attitudes toward education compared to public attitudes of education across the nation. I am glad I did; it changed everything!

First of all, when it comes to public attitudes, I found Mississippi pretty much flows in the same direction as the rest of the nation. We also seem to be perfectly in sync with the other education bottom dwellers – Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. I found the negative attitudes displayed toward public education by so many Mississippi voters differed little from attitudes toward public education in other parts of the nation. Like most of the nation, Mississippi is facing an education crisis spurred by a thinly disguised Republican agenda to privatize public schools, a movement for greater parental choice in education decisions, and an unwavering belief that the public knows more about what is best educationally for their children than educators. In addition, the overall lack of political and public respect for public schools as well as the political and public resolve to influence, dictate, and control the selection and development of local and state school curriculums appears to be common across the states. What truly bothered me though was the discovery of a deep underlying – unspoken – opinion held by many in the political arena as well as the public that suggested the United States would be better off by eliminating ALL public schools!

After years of lackluster academic performance, it appears the public’s respect and trust of public education falls somewhere between their respect and trust of politicians, TV evangelists, and used car salesmen. In seems, many people in the public believe they can do better teaching their children at home than public school teachers can in the classroom, so they question the existence of public schools. Of course, as an educator, I regarded such reasoning as nonsense, but after immersing myself further into the issues, I came to the realization that maybe they are right. Maybe, it is time that as a nation, we face the possibility that public schools have outlived their purpose. If we are honest with ourselves, public schools today exist primarily for childcare, sports, free lunches, and of course, testing. Even academic courses, to create jobs and sustain student interest, have been subdivided and disemboweled to the point of irrelevance. When lack of subject substance and continuity is meshed with the present public school focus on social interactions, celebrations, playtime, political correctness, and curriculums we dare not make too challenging, we are left with little more than a hypothetical school. Again, let’s be honest, that game can be played at home with less expensive overhead than public classrooms. Current politics, local pandering, inclusiveness, and permissiveness have left many public schools little more than thirteen years of leveled kindergarten with a senior year that according to the public should exclusively be about having fun and building memories.

So, yes, maybe there is credibility to the idea of eliminating public schools altogether. With the Internet, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and texting, children have little need for the social aspect of school anymore, and the academic possibilities and resources available online far exceed what many underfunded and understaffed public schools can offer. Regardless of parental income level, the Internet is available with very few exceptions in homes via a connected computer, smart TV, Ipad, or data linked cell phone, so why do parents need to send their children to school? For a fraction of the cost of what parents spend on local school taxes, school supply lists, workbooks, monthly school fundraisers, school field trips, school uniforms, and private tutoring lessons, they can have everything a school can offer in the comfort of their homes or the public library, and still have time to drop the kids off at the mall for the afternoon.

This has not been easy for me to swallow, but as an educated person, I have no choice but to face this new reality. Schools are no longer relevant in America! The sooner this is accepted, the sooner we can put an end to the many school related issues handcuffing our society. Since everyone who has ever attended grade school or high school is recognized by most American political leaders as experts on what children need to know and be able to do (especially in Mississippi), the United States could easily abolish ALL public schools and save billions of dollars in education wages, salaries, and benefits. I dare say, making America “School Free” would most likely have a major positive economic and social impact on our nation. If there are any doubters, please look carefully at the following benefits . . . .

If we made America “School Free”. . . .

  1. Parents could teach their children the way they were taught;
  2. Parents could assign homework not too difficult, so they could help their children with the homework;
  3. If we made America “School Free,” the national budget could be balanced and the national debt paid off with the money saved on education;
  4. The cost of childcare for working parents could be drastically reduced. Parents could reduce childcare costs by dropping their older children off at the mall, movie theater, park, or zoo during the day. For younger children below the age of five, there would be an abundance of teenagers available and willing to babysit for a small fee since they would not be burdened by school;
  5. Eliminating public schools would drastically impact the economy for the better:
    • Revenue for businesses in malls would increase;
    • Local sales taxes would increase;
    • State money normally spent on education could be divided among other state agencies to hire extra personnel, improve services, rebuild crumbling infrastructures such as bridges, and there would even be money to build more prisons. Who knows a little extra money in the budget may even solicit a smile from the highway patrol personnel in the driver’s license office;
    • Without such expenses as school taxes, school fund raisers, and school supply lists, parents would have more money in their pockets;
    • If America was to become “school free,” unemployment numbers would spiral downwards since malls would need to hire extra security and sales floor people and more police and highway patrol personnel would be needed to patrol the streets.
  6. If We made America “School Free,” kids too cool for the mall or without transportation to the mall would have more social time on street corners;
  7. School buildings could be converted to climate control storage units, which would create additional local government revenues. Of course, the broken windows and air and heat would have to be repaired or replaced first, and better security systems would have to be installed in most public schools used for this purpose;
  8. Football and baseball stadiums as well as gyms could be turned over to local club sports. Clubs would be responsible for hiring and firing coaches at their discretion. There would be no more of the “namby-pamby” talk about character building; it would be “win or the highway” for coaches and players alike. Kids could practice eight hours a day, five days per week or even seven days a week if coaches and parents desired;
  9. There would be no testing, which means no more shaming comparisons to other schools in the state or countries around the world;
  10. Since they would no longer be needed, School buses could be parked bumper to bumper along the USA/Mexico border to provide an inexpensive wall to keep out illegal immigrants. School bus drivers could be hired full time to sit in each bus with a shotgun to repel all illegals trying to cross the border;
  11. Money saved on education could be used to create a wall of isolation around the United States. Only information and people deemed pertinent to the political agendas of the governing party or pertinent to the success of collegiate or professional athletic teams would be permitted to enter the country;
  12. The government could control all free thinking, or at least quarantine free thinking troublemakers to restricted zones in barren thinly populated areas of the country. The Democrat and Republican parties would be free to indoctrinate or brainwash the American people with any ideology that suited their agendas;
  13. Providing services such as sex education, suicide awareness, health screenings, counseling, providing for children with disabilities, and serving breakfast and lunch would once again become the moral, parenting, and monetary responsibilities of parents;
  14. State and Federal legislators could concentrate on issues such as poverty and not simply focus on the symptoms of poverty such as poor academic performance. Without public schools as a whipping boy, legislators might finally do the job they were elected to do;
  15. If we made America “School Free,” freeloading teachers would finally be forced to get real jobs like everybody else!

These are only a few of the benefits of getting rid of public schools in America. Based on the current attitudes toward public school education in Mississippi and across the United States, I am convinced the public is ready for such a move.  It is bound to happen sooner or later.  How much longer can public schools in this state and this nation exist without the confidence of the people? Public school educators have endured about all the disrespect and votes of “no confidence” they can tolerate. So, why not simply put them out of their misery and close public schools altogether? Except for Friday nights in the fall, I wonder if public schools would even be missed.

JL

©Jack Linton, December 14, 2015

Lessons Public School Teachers Learned from Initiative 42

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 the people of Mississippi sent a message to public school educators that they didn’t care. That may sound harsh since many of those who voted against supporting education actually did care, but they were confused and bamboozled by the GOP leadership. Nevertheless, their numbers, plus the numbers of those who truly didn’t care, successfully drove a stake through the hearts of public school educators. To put it simply, public school teachers in Mississippi were royally shafted!

There is little doubt that if the campaign leading up to the vote had been on the up and up, Initiative 42 would have passed. But, the deceitful propaganda and the campaigning of the Southern fried good old boy troubadours (Bryant, Reeves, and Gunn) were simply too much for many Mississippians to see through. In a state where much of the population acquires its news solely from talk radio, television, and word of mouth, it is disappointing but understandable when people prove to be gullible to such tactics. In spite of the valiant efforts to cleanse the confusion and dirt from the air surrounding Initiative 42, teachers, parents, college professors, and church ministers, to name a few, tried unsuccessfully to debunk anti-Initiative 42 hearsay that was laced with tidbits of race bating and “you ain’t gonna tell us what to do” phobia. It is hard to compete with the hair dresser, Uncle Snooty, Aunt Birdie, wisdom benders in the church parking lot, and Cousin Jeb who knows a guy who knows a guy in the Legislature, telling people the truth as they, by God and word of mouth, know it to be.

Nevertheless, in spite of the shafting, educators learned that for maybe the first time in history, they are not alone! They learned there is a grassroots movement of over 300,000 Mississippians who are also fed up with the lack of Legislative support for education. This movement represents the new Mississippi, and educators must take care not to overlook the tremendous efforts so many people made on their behalf. Though discouraged, this is a time for teachers to take what has been learned from this fight and temporarily file it away to use another day. This is a Mississippi fight that will not end until education becomes a priority.

What Educators Learned From Initiative 42

  1. We learned our state leaders are not above intentionally misleading and confusing the people;
  2. We learned some community college presidents who have always touted being a friend of public education speak with the tongue and venom of a snake;
  3. We learned what the rest of the nation has been saying is true – Mississippi has changed little;
  4. We learned many people in our state believe too much is spent on education, and some even believe they could take the money presently spent on education and do a better job teaching than state teachers. Of course, teachers know that is a lot of hot air! First, those would be teachers would not commit themselves to spending thousands of dollars for the degrees and advanced degrees it takes to get a license to teach! Second, those would be teachers couldn’t handle the long hours dealing with someone else’s kids while shortchanging their own, and they certainly would not work for a teacher’s salary that when divided by the hours worked amounts to far less than minimum wage. Those would be teachers wouldn’t have the stomach to clean up the vomit, deal with soiled clothes, and runny noses that go along with the job. They wouldn’t understand that teachers often have to be a mama or daddy to children in need of guidance, love and a whole lot of understanding and compassion. They couldn’t cope with the stress that goes with an “I gottcha!” evaluation system. They would not subject themselves to the constant ridicule and disrespect thrown at them by so many in the public and political ranks. But, most of all those would be teachers couldn’t handle going to work every day praying their family understands why they teach, and hoping at least the parents of the children they teach care and appreciate the job they are doing, but knowing other than family, a handful of remarkable parents, and colleagues, no one cares about them as a teacher;
  5. We learned that before the dust of the battle has fully cleared, the talk in Jackson is not about what the Legislature can do to show they care about teachers, but rather the talk is centered around doing away with MAEP, so in the future the legislators will not have to face a situation similar to Initiative 42 again;
  6. We learned that many people believe Mississippi education is broken, but they are not willing to do what it takes to fix it;
  7. We learned from people who haven’t been in a classroom or walked into a school in years what a sorry job teachers are doing in the classroom and how they are wasting taxpayer money;
  8. We learned all the education money is going to millionaire school administrators and not the classrooms;
  9. We learned that a Mississippi chancery judge is the most powerful judicial position in the state and maybe the nation; and
  10. We also learned that a chancery judge is especially powerful if he or she is black and from Hinds County.

Initiative 42 was a time of learning and coming to grips with reality for public school educators. In addition to the lessons mentioned above, educators learned that when it comes to education, too many in the public are quick to the trigger with excuses for not supporting it. Politically, educators learned that, other than the faces, little has changed in Mississippi politics over the years – the party in power still tends to be the party of suppression. However, the most important lesson educators learned is that it takes the passion of a saint, the courage of a warrior, and the compassion of an angel to be a teacher in Mississippi. As I have said elsewhere, teachers from Mississippi will not have to stand in line in Heaven to get their wings; they will be moved immediately to the head of the line.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD, November 7, 2015

The Reality of School Cuts if Initiative 42 Fails

People opposed to Initiative 42 like to speculate on the cuts other Mississippi state agencies may face if the Initiative passes, but they fail to see the cuts public schools live with everyday; cuts that are not speculative.  Cuts in public school are a reality!  K – 12 public schools have been steadily cutting their budgets for years! It is not uncommon for school districts in Mississippi to cut their budgets by as much as 15% to open the school doors to start the school year, cut the budget again at Christmas by another 10%, and then cut 5% in the spring to keep the schoolhouse doors open until May. While cuts to other state agencies are at this point pure speculation at best, there is nothing speculative about the present reality of cuts in public schools and the forthcoming cuts that will result if Initiative 42 does not pass. Many of our state schools are to the point they cannot continue to make cuts and keep the schoolhouse doors open!

The problem is that too many in the public are not aware of the financial struggles their community schools have been facing. Why should they be? School district superintendents, school boards, and the faculty and staff have always “sucked it up” and moved forward in the best interests of the children despite the cuts. The problem is they have “sucked it up” until the well is almost sucked dry. Unfortunately, as long as the school buses keep rolling, the lights keep flickering on in classrooms, and the football team and the band plays on Friday nights, the public will continue to believe all is well and good in “public school land.” However, financially, all is not good in “public school land!” Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s time Mississippians consider the magnitude of public school cuts and what those cuts will mean not only to their children but to their communities as well if Initiative 42 fails to pass.

As I have said elsewhere, with or without Initiative 42, Mississippi will continue to have school – at least for the foreseeable future. Whatever cuts happen in the public schools, few in the public will notice until those cuts begin to hit home. The public will not notice until family members who work in schools as assistant teachers, custodians, maintenance workers, clerical staff, and even teachers are sent home without a job because there is little or no money to pay them. The public will not notice until the local schoolhouse doors are closed and their children are bused across counties thirty or forty miles to the nearest school still open. And, the public will not notice there is a serious financial problem in public schools until the football team and the band stops playing on Friday night!

Unfortunately, most people in the public do not believe these things are possible. They take public schools and the education it provides their children, the jobs it provides people in their community, and the sense of pride it instills in their community for granted. They shouldn’t!  If the public does not make public school education a priority by passing Initiative 42, these things are very much in jeopardy.  Unless, the public demands their public schools become a priority in Jackson, they should expect major cuts in their community schools. Folks, this “ain’t no” scare tactic! If you think it is, take a serious look at the following decisions regarding your community schools that will need to be made if adequate funding for public schools is not addressed soon. This list is not speculation of the cuts that will need to be considered! These are cuts local school boards will have to consider unless there is adequate funding for education in their school districts.

Cuts the public can expect to see if community public schools are not properly funded:

  1. Non-certified personnel cuts: Although this list does not necessarily represent cuts in priority order, the first cuts usually made in a school district are in the area of non-certified personnel (non-teaching positions). Therefore, if there are assistant teachers in schools, they will probably be the first to be sent home without a job. Next in line to lose their jobs due to cuts will be cafeteria workers, custodians, clerical staff, and maintenance personnel, and any other non-certified positions;
  2. School Counselors cut: Although school counselors are already in short supply in most schools, without proper funding, you can expect to see school counselor positions eliminated in all but the wealthiest school districts;
  3. School Nurses cut: School nurses may be cut to one per school district, or none at all;
  4. School Security cut: In an era when school safety and security are a major concern, school security officers may have to be cut to one per school district, or cut completely;
  5. Program cuts: Districts will be forced to look very closely at course/subject offerings. Tough choices will have to be made about such courses/programs as foreign languages, visual arts, performing arts, choir, physical education, driver education, technology, vocational programs, and tutoring programs to determine which programs, if any, survive;
  6. Certified personnel cuts:  Many districts will have to cut the number of teachers in their districts, which will result in more students in each classroom as well as reduced course/subject offerings;
  7. Extracurricular activities cut: Extracurricular activities such as band, show choir, and sports (football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, etc.) will have to be severely cut back or eliminated altogether. For example, school districts could save money by eliminating the purchase and upkeep of athletic and band uniforms and equipment. Money could be saved by cutting athletic trainers, and cutting back or eliminating band directors, football coaches, etc. Savings could be realized by parking athletic, band, and cheerleader buses. Many schools across the state will be forced to take hard looks at the financial feasibility of keeping extracurricular activities in their community schools;
  8. School Schedules shortened:  The length of the school day as well as cutting schools to a four day week would have to be considered. By moving to a four day school week, school districts theoretically could save as much as 20% of their overhead costs such as utilities, transportation, food services, and salaries for both certified and non-certified personnel. Of course, such a move might also impact parents financially since they would need to pay for daycare services for younger children who would normally be in school;
  9. Facility decisions/cuts: There will be little new construction, and even basic maintenance needs will have to be cut to the bare minimum. This has already happened in many school districts, and will only get worse without adequate funding;
  10. Transportation cuts: (1) If extracurricular activities survive the cuts, the number of games and contests will need to be drastically reduced, thereby saving on transportation costs; (2) Without funding for transportation upgrades (new buses) and maintenance, double routing school buses packed to capacity will become the norm as buses are taken out of service without money to repair or replace them; and (3) To save on transportation costs, school field trips at all grade levels will need to be eliminated.

I am sure there are other school district cuts I am leaving out, but the point is, it is speculation at best to say state agencies will be cut 7.8% if Initiative 42 passes, but it is NOT speculation to say that school districts will have to make cuts, even dramatic cuts, if Initiative 42 does not pass – the cuts are already happening! Schools are expensive, but the impact of not adequately funding community schools will impact not only the education of our children, but the economy of our communities (loss of wages from shortened work schedules and layoffs), and community pride as well. The only protection against public school cuts and the devastation such cuts cause our children and our communities is to VOTE for INITIATIVE 42!

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD November 2, 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