Tag Archives: Phil Bryant

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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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

Shame on Mississippi: Hell No! We are Better than This! Ten Tips for Surviving Mississippi’s Apocalypse

Shame on Mississippi, shame on our state leaders, we are better than the backward, intolerant image they have painted for us!  State representative Karl Oliver summed up the state leadership’s attitude all too well with his response to a concerned Mississippi citizen, “I could care less.”  That attitude, that lack of concern for the state’s citizens, image, and future, has become evident in the actions and inactions of Mississippi’s leaders, especially the Republicans.  As a result, the state is trapped in a nightmare.  From education to religion, we have been bullied, led astray, frightened, and held hostage by state legislators, the lieutenant governor, and the governor who are dead set on recreating Mississippi in their image.  With dead end funding for education; brainless, reckless abandon for throwing away state money; introduction of laws that violate the First Amendment rights of teacher citizens, attention to frivolous personal agenda laws in lieu of addressing the state’s crumbling infrastructure; the passage of the most blatantly discriminatory law since the Jim Crow era; and an atmosphere of hate and fear married to a lack of common sense, Mississippians might think they are living in a Class B movie written and directed earlier in his career by Quintin Tarantino, or that they have been “hogtied” and dropped into the NBC TV series, You, Me, and the Apocalypse.  Mississippi is engulfed in turmoil and craziness like nothing it has seen in over fifty years.  Unfortunately, unlike a Tarantino film there is no end in sight, nor is there a bunker, like the one in the NBC series, for people to hide until the madness is over.

So, how can Mississippians survive the political and social craziness and injustice that is strangling the state?  That is not an easy question to answer, but here are ten survival suggestions that might at least save enough Mississippians to pick up the pieces and carry on if the carnage ever ends:

Ten Tips for Surviving Mississippi’s Apocalypse

  1. Trade in your flip flops for wading boots! More than likely, the crap is only going to get deeper as long as the present leadership has power in Jackson;
  2. Stay out of the sun! You don’t want to chance getting too dark;
  3. Never, ever, walk into a business in same sex pairs whether you are a couple or not;
  4. If you are gay and invited to a snipe hunt, DON’T GO!
  5. Incorporate yourself! State legislators may be reluctant to pay for the education of the state’s children, but they will give you the shirts off their backs if you can show you are a corporation in need of tax breaks and/or exemptions;
  6. If you are gay, buy a Ford or Ram truck, and become one of the boys (oops men);
  7. To steer clear of discrimination pick any sin you like except homosexuality;
  8. If you are an educator, I am sorry, but you might not survive. Under the present Republican leadership in Jackson, in the coming years, it will be easier for a pig to fart Dixie in a tornado than be a teacher in Mississippi;
  9. Speak out against being last, ignorance, discrimination, civil injustice, and abuse of political power! Okay, this one probably should not be on a survival list; and
  10. DO what Jesus would do and PRAY for the Pharisees.

Good luck friends!  We are stuck in this Class B movie by our own doing, or lack of doing!  With our vote and silence, we have allowed our elected state leaders to run our state into the ground by permitting them to prey on the people’s fear of rich, lazy educators, fear of government interference, and fear of tolerance for their fellow man.  Unfortunately, it won’t change overnight, and there is not a bunker deep enough to shield us from the damaging fallout caused by their pursuit of personal and party agendas as well as their mindless recklessness.  We are going to need people of action, a lot of luck, and a mountain of prayers to get out of this mess.  We need more Mississippians standing up and shouting, “Hell no!  We are better than this!”

JL

©Jack Linton, April 10, 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

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

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

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