Be True to Initiative 42’s Calls for Accountability   | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Be True to Initiative 42’s Calls for Accountability  

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Tim Abram

Initiative 42 has been the talk of the political world in Mississippi for months now. As an educator in this state, it has been difficult to form an opinion. Nevertheless, it is my responsibility, like other citizens of Mississippi, to analyze all the given information about the initiative and come to a sound conclusion before casting a vote.

After reading more than a dozen opinion articles from numerous outlets, one thing is clear: Initiative 42 does not simply fall under a catchall category. Its potential implications merit intense research from all the stakeholders.

In an opinion piece from The Hechinger Report, "The Potentially Devastating Impact of Mississippi's Initiative 42," author Grant Callen, a charter-school advocate, essentially argues that Democrats claim that "Mississippi is not spending enough money on education and should 'fully fund' the Mississippi Adequate Education Program." He says a Democratic-controlled Legislature passed MAEP, and that the Legislature has only fully funded the formula twice since its creation. "Now that Republicans are in control, it is suddenly a critical issue to Democrats," he concludes.

A couple of aspects of Callen's thinking are flawed. The issue's framing is a distraction, a red herring fallacy. The real issue is not Democrats versus Republicans, but rather sufficient funds versus insufficient funds. His column also argues that two wrongs make a right, another fallacy. In other words, because Democrats failed to get the formula fully funded, it is OK for the Republicans to not have done so as well. It should not be about finger pointing over who has done it wrong, but rather focusing on individuals who will make the decisions to do it right. Callen also cites the recent failure of the Tunica County School District as a demonstration that "[m]oney alone cannot solve Mississippi's education woes." But it is dangerous to form such a strong opinion based off the failure of one school district.

A recent Forbes article looked at Initiative 42 from a judicial and economic perspective. "Putting a single judge in charge of dictating education funding is no way to run a state. ... Nor is it a way to attract new employers, residents, and investment," Patrick Gleason wrote.

The murky language of Initiative 42 does raise a bit of concern for me as I am unsure whether or not the constitutional amendment would be "putting a single judge in charge of dictating education funding" as many opponents of the initiative have suggested. But it doesn't seem to be true. Recently, in an "Open Letter to the People of Mississippi," 19 law professors from the University of Mississippi School of Law, along with several practicing attorneys, utterly refuted this notion of "a single judge" deciding the fate of education funding.

They wrote, "[C]ertain legal arguments regarding Initiative 42 are unsound and exaggerated misstatements about how the legal process actually works." The letter then explains that in the event of a lawsuit against the State of Mississippi, either side could appeal the decision and send it to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which is accountable to the people who elect its members. They end the letter by saying, "If we were grading this legal argument, it would fail."

The Forbes article contends that the passage would scare off potential employers because they would not want to bring a business to a state "where one Judge supersedes the Legislature and has the ability to (effectively) force lawmakers to raise taxes on in-state employers and residents." I would argue the passage of Initiative 42 would lead to better-funded schools that can create a more educated populace, which would entice business owners to come to the state.

In summation, I offer two points. First, Initiative 42 seemingly creates a mechanism that would hold our Legislature accountable to the citizens of Mississippi in sufficiently funding our schools. Second, the rhetoric about giving one judge unchecked authority does seem daunting, but from what I have read, there simply isn't way to prove that this is how the law will play out. I urge all the citizens of Mississippi to research all the available information before deciding to vote for or against the initiative. It is our collective responsibility.

Timothy Abram is a United States history teacher at West Tallahatchie High School in Webb, Miss. All opinions are his own and are not reflective of the West Tallahatchie School District.

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