One Destination, Two Routes | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

One Destination, Two Routes

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who co-authored MAEP, and public-education advocates at Better Schools Better Jobs want the same thing: for the state to recognize its duty to fully fund education according to the formula it created.

Only, one is proposing a solution through a lawsuit, while the other is pushing for a constitutional amendment.

Full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program became mandatory after a law passed in 2006 that states: "Effective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program."

"'Shall' is not discretionary. It is mandatory," Musgrove said, which is why he filed a lawsuit against the state in regards to its refusal to fully fund MAEP. Nineteen schools districts are included in the lawsuit. He is seeking $134 million that the state has shorted those districts since 2010, when the 2006 law took full effect.

Patsy Brumfield, coordinator for Better Schools Better Jobs, says MAEP is "Musgrove's baby."

While she agrees with his sentiment, Brumfield thinks a constitutional amendment that would require the Legislature to fully fund MAEP, which would provide a phase-in period, is a more reasonable way to go about achieving their goal.

The initiative reads: "Initiative #42 would protect each child's fundamental right to educational opportunity through the 12th grade by amending Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the State must provide and the legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. This initiative would also authorize the chancery courts of this State to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief."

Roughly 200,000 Mississippians signed the petition for initiative 42 to appear on the ballot in 2015. Now, Better Schools Better Jobs is tasked with making sure the state Legislature does not try to sabotage the amendment.

The Legislature could vote to add an alternative initiative to the public education funding amendment that would appear alongside it on the ballot. The purpose of doing this would to confuse voters in order to deter them from voting on the amendment altogether.

"Any attempt to pass an alternative is a cynical ploy to kill the citizens' initiative," Brumfield said.

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