Tag Archives: MAEP

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

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EdBuild: Secrecy and the End Game

          It is January 2017, and the assault on public school education in Mississippi continues.  The Republican push to privatize public education is at full throttle, and once again funding for public schools will most likely fall far below the amount required by state law.  In fact, the Joint Legislative Budget recommendation for the 2017-18 school year is 180.9 million dollars short of the amount required to fully fund the MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) formula.  However, if state leaders get their way, shortchanging MAEP may not be an issue much longer.  In the fall of 2016, they hired an out of state group (EdBuild) to study the formula and make recommendations for changes.  After the Initiative 42 battle over MAEP funding in 2015, most public school educators had been expecting such a move to rewrite or eliminate the formula.  However, the clandestine approach state leaders took to hire EdBuild as well as their efforts to block the public from gaining access to knowledge about the scope of the consulting firm’s work, truly troubled public school educators and their supporters.

When the public discovered, state leaders had hired EdBuild to study and recommend changes to the MAEP formula, they asked to see the EdBuild contract.   However, they were denied access to the contract until the state attorney general issued an opinion forcing the state to allow public access.  Why would state leaders deny the public information they were entitled to receive?  Why the secrecy?  Also, why did state leaders deliberately duck the public hearing to discuss the contract?  They initiated the hiring, so they should have been available to answer questions about the hiring.  Why wouldn’t they address the concerns of citizens face to face in the hearing?  Furthermore, why was the hearing cut short after 75 minutes?  Why were only a select few allowed to speak?  Why were people from the general public who had made arrangements to get off work to attend the meeting and address EdBuild officials unable to comment?  What were the motives behind the actions of state leaders?  What motivated them to be secretive and evasive?

The motive behind their actions was simple!  MAEP has been a pain in the side of state leaders and legislators for years, and they want it to go away.  Doing away with MAEP for a new formula or rewriting the old formula would reduce challenges to education funding as well as give Republican legislators added leverage in their quest to push forward with parent choice and privatization of public schools.  Rewriting the formula to include charter schools and vouchers as well as provide assistance to private schools and homeschools would seal the deal for state support of parent choice and privatization of public schools and open the door to ultimately dismantling public schools.

For state leaders in Jackson, dismantling public school education is the end game.  The secrecy they created around the hiring of EdBuild, along with their reluctance to be open and honestly address the concerns of the public regarding that hire, speaks volumes about their intent.  EdBuild’s January 2017 report only added coals to the fire.  In the report, the firm made several recommendations that, if adopted, could have dire consequences for public education in Mississippi.

First, EdBuild recommended Mississippi adopt a new student base cost.  Under that recommendation, the student base cost would not include an annual adjustment to account for inflation.  Without an adjustment for inflation, funding that may have been adequate initially would, over time, become grossly inadequate to support public schools.  Under the recommendation, increases in student costs would only be made at the discretion of the state legislature.  Based on the Mississippi Legislature’s history for  funding public education, the initial amount set for the student base cost would most likely remain the same indefinitely or more precisely forever.

In another recommendation, the consulting firm recommended the state decrease the state’s responsibility for funding public education by placing more of the burden on the local communities.  I imagine there was a great deal of back slapping and high fives in Republican chambers at the state capitol when they heard that recommendation.  When adopted, such a recommendation would significantly increase the amount of local taxes citizens pay in their communities to support local schools.  Under this recommendation, the burden to fund public school education would be greatly reduced at the state level and transferred to the local communities.  Locally, citizens would see significant increases in the amounts they pay for car tags, property taxes, and other personal taxes such as sales taxes.  The legislature would have less of a role in appropriating public education funds, but it is a sure bet they would maintain or even increase their authority to dictate how much local money individual school districts would have to funnel to charter schools, vouchers, and private schools/academies.

The EdBuild report also stated that [In Mississippi] “Ratios of students to guidance counselors, teachers, and librarians are all significantly lower than the national average.”  Therefore, EdBuild recommended the ratio of student to staff/faculty should be monitored closely and maintained at the national average of 16:1.  This recommendation would open the door to reduce the number of guidance counselors, teachers, and school librarians.  Based on the data reported by EdBuild, librarian positions would most likely be the first cut from public schools.

These are just a few of the EdBuild recommendations and their consequences if adopted.  There are other recommendations such as changing the definition of “poverty” and how it is calculated.  Presently, socioeconomic status is determined by “free and reduced lunches,” but under the EdBuild recommendation such status would be determined at least partially by the United States Census.  Since EdBuild has yet to run numbers to compare the impact of the new definition versus the old definition on individual school districts, it is unclear how such a change may impact schools.  However, one thing that is glaringly clear about this recommendation as well as the other recommendations is that it will not necessarily place more money into public school classrooms unless maybe the classroom conforms to the new definition of “poverty.”  That is strange since legislators say the primary reason a revision or new public education funding formula is needed is to put more money into ALL classrooms.  They claim public school classrooms are suffering under the MAEP formula.  Of course, anyone, not drinking the Kool-Aid, knows classrooms are suffering because they are annually underfunded by the Mississippi Legislature.

State leaders contend the challenge to adequately fund public education will become a thing of the past once the old MAEP formula is rewritten or a new funding law is written to take its place.  However, why should the citizens of Mississippi harbor any hope or expectations that legislators will follow a new or revised funding law, especially since funding will most likely remain at the Legislature’s discretion?  That is where EdBuild’s recommendations come into play.  A truth about the recommendations, that no one can dispute, is that if adopted, the recommendations will make it easier for the Legislature to continue to fund public education at nine figure deficits.  Under a revised or new formula, it will be much easier to hide or justify inadequate education funding.  At least, that is what the Republican leadership in Jackson is hoping to achieve by hiring EdBuild to recommend changes to the MAEP formula.

If EdBuild’s recommendations are adopted and implemented, within a few short years, no one will remember MAEP and its promise of adequate funding for public schools.  Nine figure deficits in public education will become the norm since funding will be tied to a cost factor that is perpetually locked.  As a result, the public will continue to wrongly associate struggling public schools with incompetence and mismanagement when in truth their struggles will more likely be the result of inadequate funding.

The end game is the desire for parent choice and privatization will escalate among the public, and the Republican leadership in Jackson will have won.  The major problem is thousands of poor and middle class children will be stranded within the crumbling infrastructure of the public school system unable to meet the selective demands of charter and private schools and without the means to take advantage of vouchers.  The end game for Mississippi is a cheap labor force, a status quo of the “haves” and the “have nots,” and an everlasting home at the bottom of prosperity.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 24, 2017

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

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

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