Ballot Initiative 42 – Regarding Public Education

Initiative 42 – The Proposed Constitutional Amendment Regarding Public Schools

The actual Constitutional amendment will not appear on the ballot. Only the following question will appear: Should the state be required to provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?

The actual Constitutional amendment proposed by the initiative would make the following changes to Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution (proposed additions are underlined, deletions are shown as strike-through):

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.

  1. This amendment says nothing about funding. While the phrase, “establishment, maintenance and support” could be construed to be related to funding, that phrase is already in the Constitution. This amendment does not propose to change that phrase.
  2. The last sentence in the amendment gives the power to “the chancery courts of this state.” Because the State of Mississippi would be the defendant in any lawsuit filed to enforce this section of the Constitution, the lawsuit would have to be filed in Hinds County Chancery Court. There are four Hinds County Chancery Judges, each of whom is elected only by the citizens of a district of the county. One of these judges would be assigned to hear the case, meaning a judge from the Jackson area, who is elected by a small number of people in Hinds County, would have full authority to decide not only how much money is sufficient but how the money is to be spent. The legislature would have no ability to limit the impact of the judge’s rulings (see below).
  3. The amendment places no limits on the Hinds County judge who hears such a lawsuit. The judge could, as the initiative’s proponents seem to anticipate, require the legislature to “fully fund” the MAEP formula and to phase-in the increased funding over seven years. However, the judge could also choose to require the legislature to double, or even triple, the MAEP funding. The judge could also decide that high-performing districts are getting enough from the state and order the state to give any “new” money to low-performing districts until they catch up. Furthermore, because the amendment does not limit the judge’s reach, and because it gives the judge jurisdiction over a “system” of schools, he or she would have full authority to dictate to the state department of education and local school districts exactly how the money should be spent at the state and local level.
  4. The amendment makes no mention of a phase-in or any other timing. A lawsuit could be filed immediately after the amendment is adopted, and a ruling could come in the first year following its passage, requiring the legislature to adopt whatever budget is dictated by the judge. This would require drastic cuts to all other government agencies, or it would require a tax increase. Our state Constitution prohibits judges from ordering a tax increase at any level of government, but a mandated spending increase could, in effect, require a tax increase if cutting all other programs proved to be politically impossible. It is estimated that all agencies other than the Department of Education would have to be cut about 17 percent, and that’s only if the judge orders “full funding” of the current MAEP formula. Those cuts would include IHL, Community Colleges, Medicaid, Corrections, and virtually everything else. If any of those were excluded from the cuts, then other agencies would be cut more deeply.
  5. The proposed amendment – in three places – deletes the authority of the legislature to determine any aspect of education policy or funding. This is critically important, because state and federal courts generally determine the will of the voters by noticing the words that were deleted by a Constitutional amendment as well as the words that were added. Education would no longer be ruled “by general law” passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, and the legislature would no longer be allowed to place “conditions and limitations” on the funding or performance of public schools. In other words, a Hinds County judge, elected by a few, would have more power than the Legislature, elected by all the people of the state,to set education policy for Mississippi.

Summary:

  1. The amendment says nothing about funding.
  2. It gives a judge in Hinds County the power to dictate to the Legislature how much to spend and how to spend it. The Legislature will have no control over the amount of funding or how the Department of Education spends your taxes.
  3. It gives a judge in Hinds County the power to dictate how your local district educates your children, and at what cost.
  4. It gives a judge in Hinds County the power to force the Legislature to either make drastic cuts to community colleges, universities, public safety, and other agencies, or raise taxes on Mississippians, or both!
  5. Beware of unanticipated consequences!