Mississippi’s future depends on funding MAEP

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Few times in history do we get the opportunity to change our state for the better. We have that chance Nov. 3 when we vote for Initiative 42.

Initiative 42 is a citizen-led constitutional amendment to do something so simple and so important: to require the Mississippi Legislature to keep the law it passed 18 years ago and fully fund the state’s part of K-12 education, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

Simply, it says to lawmakers, just keep the law you enacted but have fully funded only twice. In the past eight years, that refusal to obey the law has cost our state’s schools nearly $1.7 billion – enough money to pay for 4,871 first-year teachers for 10 years, or 16.7 million textbooks, or 4,555 school counselors for 10 years, or 5.6 million classroom computer or 17,634 school buses.

What’s also simple to understand is that the nearly 200,000 Mississippians who signed petitions to put Initiative 42 on the ballot support a an economic environment

funding phase-in over several years so that agency and university budgets are not hurt. When lawmakers tell you budget cuts or tax increases will be necessary, they are just wrong and trying to scare voters.

While Initiative 42’s goal is simple, its impact is crucial.

Frankly, I’m fed up with our state leaders’ unwillingness to do what it will take to get Mississippi off the bottom. I’m fed up with loving a state and wanting to make my future here, but knowing we’re on the bottom to stay unless things change.

As a USM senior, I think about our future. It’s just around the corner for me, and I realize those great jobs are not coming to Mississippi when business leaders know our state doesn’t support its public education system. They know we do not produce enough well educated students to be the skilled employees they need to succeed.

I also worry about the future of others, like my ninth-grader brother in Jones County Schools. What can his future be like if our state doesn’t create for success?

The Forrest-Lamar County area is blessed with excellent public schools with strong local financial support. We see the results of a thriving economy in an island of prosperity.

But what happens to those other communities in our state where local economies are not so successful? The answer: they struggle to survive, and their schools struggle to meet even the basic requirements for their children.

It’s not fair that the opportunity for a good K-12 education depends upon a child’s zip code.

You also may hear talk radio chatter about this “one judge in Hinds County,” who’s going to become a K-12 funding czar to tell our state how to spend your tax money. Ridiculous.

The truth is simple: no judge will be involved with K-12 funding if the legislature abides by its own law. But, if it doesn’t, our democratic system of checks and balances provides that some authority— our judicial system—will step in and tell lawmakers they are not abiding by the constitution.

“Do your job,” is what they will be told. But the Legislature always retains the authority to decide how that job will be done.

And so I urge you to vote for Initiative 42 on Nov. 3 and to better inform yourself about it and the Legislature’s trick, Initiative 42-A, which its supporters admit is nothing more than a way to confuse voters and kill the real one.

Koedy Harper is a University of Southern Mississippi senior political science major. He grew up in Jones County and is a graduate of Northeast Jones High School.