Mississippi Group Proposes Initiative to Guarantee Adequate School Funding

in NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK

A Mississippi education advocacy group has launched a campaign to amend the state constitution to establish adequate education funding as a constitutional mandate. The advocacy group, Better Schools, Better Jobs, seeks to place the school funding initiative on the ballot in 2015.

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is a 1997 formula that determines funding levels for all school districts. Consistently underfunded, MAEP has had more than a $1.3 billion deficit since the 2008 recession. This year’s appropriation is more than $250 million below what the formula requires. The current language in Mississippi’s constitution is one of the weakest in the country. Although it obligates the legislature to provide for the “maintenance and support of free public schools,” that duty is subject to “such conditions and limitations as the legislature may prescribe.” According to Jackson attorney Luther Munford who filed the initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office, this means that although the legislature is legally required to provide funding, there are no consequences if the state does not adequately fund the schools. Better Schools’ initiative would require Mississippi to appropriate funds from new economic growth to ensure that districts are fully funded.

Former Mississippi Secretary of State Dick Molpus said. “A number of us felt like if we were going to permanently change Mississippi, we needed to put in the Constitution where every child had adequate access to an education.” The initiative will ask voters if the state should be “required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” Better Schools will need the signatures of nearly 108,000 registered voters before October 1 in order to get the initiative on the ballot.

April 9, 2014

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