Tag Archives: state legislators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD. October 29, 2015

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Mississippi: A Sad State for Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JL

©Jack Linton, October 3, 2015