Saturday, October 31, 2015

Public Education Funding Initiatives 42 and 42A - Clear As Mud?

The hottest topics across Mississippi on news outlets, social media
and in the coffee shops in recent months have been the public school funding Initiatives 42 and 42A that will appear on the November 3 ballot. As with any political issue of this nature, there is much opinion, conjecture, misinformation and propaganda dispersed with the intent to persuade, dissuade or confuse the potential voter.

We at WinstonWebNews have no intent to pursue any of the above activities but to provide the public with clear and adequate information on these ballot issues without bias or opinion. We will present the initiatives as written with a basic explanation, the most reasoned arguments against and for each initiative and the manner in which these will appear on the ballot.

Both initiatives will appear at the end of the General Election ballot (in Winston County, this is page 5 of 5) on November 3 and passage of either will amend the Constitution of the State of Mississippi. For either initiative to pass, it must receive a simple majority of the total votes cast for that particular initiative but it must also receive more than 40% of the total votes cast in that election. The inclusion of two initiatives on the same issue complicates the voting process.

Either initiative would change the wording of the current Section 201 of the Constitution. The current law reads as follows:

CURRENT LAW
Section 201. Free Public Schools. “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.”

Passage of initiative 42 would change Section 201 to read as follows:

Section 201. Educational opportunity for public school children “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.”

Passage of initiative 42A would change Section 201 to read 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.

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SOURCE INFORMATION

 INITIATIVE 42:
42 was placed on the ballot by petition when signature requirements were met. The petition was sponsored by Luther T. Munford, a resident of Jackson and an attorney with the firm of Butler Snow. The original filing was in February of 2014.

INITIATIVE 42A:
42A was placed on the ballot by the action and vote of the Mississippi Legislature.

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The Ballot Titles, Summaries and the indicated change to Section 201 are listed below. This is how they will appear on the ballot along with a fiscal review by the Legislative Budget Office:

Initiative Measure #42
BALLOT TITLE: Should the State be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?
BALLOT SUMMARY: Initiative Measure #42 would protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity through the 12th grade by amending Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the State must provide and the legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. This initiative would also authorize the chancery courts of this State to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.

Section 201. Educational opportunity for public school children “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.”

Alternative Measure #42A
BALLOT TITLE: Should the Legislature provide for the establishment and support of effective free public schools without judicial enforcement?
BALLOT SUMMARY: 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.

Section 201. “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.

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FISCAL ANALYSIS

The Mississippi Legislative Budget Office reviewed the estimated fiscal impact to the state for each initiative:

Fiscal Analysis for Initiative 42: Because this proposed amendment shifts funding decisions from the Legislature to the court system, it is impossible to provide a specific fiscal impact of Initiative 42. If the court system, acting under the new authority granted by Initiative 42, required K-12 Public Education be funded at the amount called for by the statutory Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the Legislature would need to appropriate an additional $201,031,129 above the Fiscal Year 2016 budgeted amount. Fiscal Year 2016 revenues are not adequate to support this funding increase without the Legislature having to cut agency budgets or identify new sources of revenue (such as fees or tax increase) to comply with the court’s dictate.

Fiscal Analysis for Initiative 42A: There is no determinable cost or revenue impact associated with this initiative.


PROS & CONS
The pros and cons of each initiative have been debated over the past months. We will list the primary issues and clarify as best as possible:

INITIATIVE 42
PRO: Proponents contend that 42 is necessary because the legislature has failed to provide adequate funding as 1997 legislation (MAEP) provided. Proponents define adequate in terms of expenditures of average school districts. The change in the constitution would provide a specific legal remedy if the Legislature fails to provide funding.
CON: Opponents of 42 contend that education funding like other state funding appropriation is within the function of the legislature and should be conducted by elected representation rather than through judicial order. Opponents also contend that a court is not bound by the Initiative 42 supporters’ interpretation of “adequate or average”.

PRO: Proponents contend that 42 gives the Courts the ability to hold the legislature accountable for adequate funding. School districts individually could bring suit in chancery court against the State if they are not properly funded. The ultimate decision based upon appeal level could lie with the Mississippi Supreme Court.
CON: Opponents contend that any cases would likely be brought before a Hinds County Court.

PRO: Proponents contend that any additional funding achieved thru 42 would make the State’s educational system more competitive with surrounding states.
CON: Opponents contend that simply adding funding does nothing to guarantee improvement in the quality of education in the State.

PRO: Proponents of 42 indicate that “adequate” funding would be phased in over a seven year period based upon a projected growth of State revenue over that time. 25% of that revenue growth would be dedicated to schools. This would achieve full “adequate” funding by 2022. This approach would have no negative effect on currently funded state budgets.
CON: Opponents contend that there is no “phase-in” requirement to Initiative 42 and that revenue growth cannot be assumed at the levels projected. They also contend that if full funding is required based upon MAEP (the 1997 legislation), other state agencies, community colleges and universities would see significant budget cuts and/or taxes would be raised. Opponents also believe that the wording of the initiative does not limit the judiciary’s involvement just to funding and opens the door for the courts’ involvement in curriculum, programs and facilities.

INITIATIVE 42A
PRO: Proponents contend that 42A provides an alternative to 42 with full authority in an elected legislature to provide an “effective” education system.
CON: Opponents contend that 42A was only submitted to confuse and divide voters to prevent passage of 42 and that the term “effective” has no legal definition and therefore no manner in which to gauge the legislature’s compliance with the amendment.


VOTING CONFUSION
As stated earlier, both initiatives will be on the last page of the November 3rd ballot. There is much confusion across the state concerning the wording and layout of the vote. A recent explanation from the Secretary of State’s Office has provided some clarity but the appearance of two initiatives has complicated the process. The best explanation we can provide is to view the two step process as two completely different votes. After the initiatives are stated, there are two separate steps in the voting process: The voter must first vote: 

 For Approval of Either Initiative or - Against Both Initiatives

In effect the voter is voting to either change the Constitution (Approval of Either Initiative) or to not change the Constitution (Against Both Initiatives)

Regardless of your vote in the previous step, the Secretary of State’s Office is recommending that voters choose an option in the 2nd step -  There is no requirement to do so but the voter may wish to view the option  in this manner: Even if you voted against both initiatives (No change to Constitution), which initiative would you support if the overall vote supported a change to the Constitution?

Examples:

·         You are in support of one of the initiatives and wish to change the Constitution- Vote for approval of either initiative on top section and vote for your initiative in the bottom section.

·         You do not wish to change the Constitution and do not support either initiative – Vote against both initiatives in the top section and choose the initiative in the 2nd part that you could support if you had to do so.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s website has much more information on these ballot measures. Click here to see the 2015 Initiative Ballot page with links to each Initiative, information on the Initiative Process and records of public hearings conducted throughout the State.

The Secretary of State has also published a brochure on these Initiatives and the voting process that is available by clicking here. Depending on demand, these brochures are also available in the Circuit Clerk’s Office.

William McCully