Mississippi Voters Turn Down Constitutional Initiative

in Mississippi, Mississippi Litigation, NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK

In Tuesday’s election, Mississippi voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have substantially bolstered student’s rights to full funding of an adequate education.

Initiative 42, which was backed by 42 For Better Schools, a statewide grassroots advocacy group, would have provided that:

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.

Parents and advocates had sought the constitutional amendment because since the 2008 recession, the legislature has failed to provide the funding owed to the schools under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (“MAEP”).  The legislature has underfunded MAEP by over $1.3 billion in recent years, and the state courts have ruled that without a constitutional amendment that would allow the courts to review the legislature’s school funding decisions,  the statute could not be enforced.

Republican legislators and a number of business groups strongly fought the initiative, arguing that legislative decisions should not be second-guessed by the courts. Supporters of the initiative stated that they aren’t giving up. Dick Molpus, who owns a timber company and is a Democratic former secretary of state, spent at least $200,000 to push Initiative 42. He said more than 300,000 people voted for the proposal, and they could press lawmakers in 2016 to fully fund the formula. Molpus said an up-or-down vote on funding would remove Republican objections over judicial oversight and loss of legislative autonomy.

“They’re worn out and tired today, but they’re still energized,” Molpus said of 42 supporters. “They really don’t want their children to receive an education that isn’t competitive.”

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