In response to a lawsuit that the legislature’s alternative to the Initiative 42 ballot measure was confusing, Hinds county Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd selected the new title for Initiative 42-A from a list provided by the opponents of 42-A: “Should the Legislature establish and support effective public schools, but not provide a mechanism to enforce that right?”
The new title for 42-A effectively changes the intent of the alternative by stipulating public education as a right (not unlike 42). As summarized by House Democratic Leader Rep. Bobby Moak in support of renaming the alternative, “It was only about the title, because the title is [what] will appear on the ballot when voters go to vote in November.”
The original Initiative 42-A Ballot Title simply asked, “Shall the Legislature be required to provide for the establishment and support of an effective system of free public schools?” The ballot summary for Initiative 42-A remains unchanged: “This constitutional amendment is proposed as a legislative alternative measure to Initiative Measure No. 42 and would require the Legislature to provide, by general law, for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.”
The Initiative 42 Ballot Title asks, “Should the State be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” But hidden in the ballot summary which will not be on the ballot, Initiative 42 establishes public education as a fundamental right and grants authority to the chancery courts to determine and enforce adequate funding.
Currently, the state legislature determines how much to fund public schools along with other budget priorities.
The Mississippi Senate passed SB 2695, Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, on Wednesday. The measure is designed to help special needs students by providing a $7,000 voucher, provided on pre-paid debit cards, to seek educational services outside the public school system. If enacted into law, it will be limited to 500 students in the first year. The estimated $3.5 million first year cost would be paid from the state’s general fund and not the Mississippi Adequate Education Program earmarked funds. Funds could only use the funds at Mississippi Department of Education approved vendors.
Gov. Phil Bryant and the National Excellence in Education Foundation praised the passage. However, the Parents Campaign opposes SB 2695 because it does not help all students with disabilities and sees it as a step toward privatization of public schools.
SB 2695 will proceed to the House for consideration where a similar bill, HB 294 sponsored by Carolyn Crawford of Pass Christian, awaits passage.
Senate Bill 2161 was passed yesterday and will establish the Mississippi Commission on College and Career Readiness to recommend new education standards to replace the Common Core States Standards adopted. Several Tea Party conservatives, namely Senators Chris McDaniel, Melanie Sojourner, and Michael Watson, protested since the Senate refused to add language making the adoption of the commission recommendations mandatory. Those objecting to SB 2161 also fear that the Commission could recommend standards that simply mirror Common Core standards.
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With proponents obtaining enough signatures to place Initiative 42 on the 2015 Ballot, the State Legislature acted to create an alternative, HCR 9 or Initiative 42A, which the House and the Senate passed this week.
If approved by voters in November, Initiative 42 would change the Mississippi Constitution to read as follows (underlined and struck-through text indicates added or deleted language):
SECTION 201. To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity,
The Legislature the State shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may provide. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.
Proponents say that this constitutional amendment will require fully funding K-12 education in Mississippi per the MAEP formula that was adopted in 1997 to determine funding. Opponents say that Initiative 42 strips the Legislature of control over education and places that control in the hands of the Chancery Court of Hinds County.
Initiative 42A would change the constitution as follows:
SECTION 201. The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.
Proponents of this alternative argue that this will keep control of education in the State Legislature and focus on results (i.e. the insertion of “an effective system”). Opponents say Initiative 42A only confuses voters and does not allow for a simple “up or down vote” on Initiative 42 by the people of Mississippi.
To pass, a proposal must win a majority and at least 40% of the total votes cast. With competing proposals, passage of either is more difficult. If voters are uneducated before going to the polls, the ballot could also be very confusing.
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With 2015 a state-wide election year, the upcoming session of the Mississippi Legislature is sure to be interesting. First, every member of the legislature and all state-wide office holders are up for re-election. Additionally, Initiative 42, the proposal to amend the state constitution to require fully funding MAEP, will be on the ballot and a possible alternative if passed by the Legislature.
With MAEP on the ballot, public education funding is certain to be a top issue for the legislature. The full MAEP formula has only been funded twice since adopted in 1997 (both times during election years) and, with Medicaid costs increasing, funding the full amount will require some combination of decreasing amounts for other services and higher education or raising taxes.
Tax relief is another political football and only the governor has proposed to give a tax credit to low to moderate income working families. The $5 state inspection sticker may also come up for consideration since it does not generate much revenue. Corporate taxes are also on the table; Mississippi is one of 13 states with a franchise tax that puts the state at a competitive disadvantage with other states in attracting new businesses.
With the scandals that have hit the Department of Corrections, Contract Reform will likely be another big topic this year. Tighter restrictions on no-bid contracts is likely to be politically popular this year.
Mark the calendar with these notable days in 2015:
- State Legislature Convenes: January 6th
- State Legislature Adjourns: April 6th
- Party Primary Election: August 4th
- Party Primary Runoff Election: August 25th
- General/Special Election: November 3rd
- Special Runoff Election: November 24th
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By gathering enough signatures, MAEP proponents have placed Initiative 42 on the 2015 General Election ballot. Per the Secretary of State press release, “Initiative #42 seeks to amend the State Constitution to require the full funding of education and grant the Chancery Court of Hinds County the power to enforce the full funding of education with appropriate injunctive relief.”
Currently, the Mississippi State Constitution entrusts education funding to the State Legislature. Section 201, states “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”
The 2015 ballot will simply read, “Should the state be required to provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?”
However, Initiative 42 will amend Section 201 of State Constitution to read as follows: “To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”
MAEP is a formula adopted by the State Legislature (MS Code § 37-151-7) in 1997 to define funding levels for public education in Mississippi. Of the $6 Billion 2014 state budget, education received about $2.4 Billion. Fully funding MAEP would require 10-15% more funding and has been fully funded twice since it’s adoption.
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