Friday, November 13, 2015

Local Branch and MS State Conference NAACP Speak on Initiative 42

Many locals were disappointed that the Initiative to level the playing field for poor families and poor school districts failed.  Without better education, this will keep the impoverished in poverty.  Is that what our country really want?  If so, that means the tax payers will continue to have the burden to take care of them via government programs, according to Charles Hampton, president of the Winston County Branch NAACP and 1st Vice President of the MS State Conference NAACP. The way it was placed on the ballot was meant to be confusing for voters.  He also stated that locals worked diligently on a door-to-door campaign to pass the initiative.


Ironically, the most vocal opponents opposing the initiative were Republicans, many of whom have no young children. Many others have children who attend either private academies, affluent schools with few financial problems, or are home-schooled, according to One Voice Executive Director Derrick Johnson and President of the MS State Conference NAACP. “This was a full-on assault to destroy the upward mobility of Mississippi children,” said Johnson.

On November 4, 2015, the Mississippi State Conference NAACP publicized an article in its newsletter titled,
Historic Initiative Fails to Reverse Years of Neglect: Though it is clear that the majority of Mississippians demanded that their legislature fully fund the State's public education system, it is just as clear that education opponents succeeded in their attempt to confuse the ballot beyond recognition.
Had voters understood that their approval of a constitutional amendment was necessary to validate their vote for Initiative 42, the new law would have put a constitutional floor under state educational funding by allowing a potential court order to command legislators to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
Legislators created the program to steer state money to rural and urban school districts that do not generate enough revenue to pay for textbooks, hire teachers or make brick-and-mortar repairs to school property.

Supporters rallied 200,000 pro-public-school signatures to put the initiative on the ballot after anti-education legislators failed to fully fund the formula all but two times since the program's creation in 1997. However, anti-education legislators, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn (all Republicans) mounted a vicious misinformation campaign claiming the initiative would give a black judge the power to steer money from white schools into black schools.

In an open letter "to the people of Mississippi," a host of professors and assistant professors from the University Of Mississippi School Of Law explained that the only power the judge would have would be to demand legislators follow the word of law and fully fund the program. The judge would not get to dictate where the money would go.

The real point of the Republicans' ads, however, was to inject race into the debate by pointedly describing the judge in question as a "Hinds County" judge, leaving white viewers to conclude that most judges in high-minority Hinds County are black.

Rep. Bubba Carpenter of Burnsville made the racist tactic embarrassingly apparent when he told a crowd at a recent Tishomingo County rally that, "If 42 passes in its form, a judge in Hinds County, Mississippi, predominantly black - it's going to be a black judge - they're going to tell us where the state education money goes."

Press releases and personal internet posts revealed opponents of the initiative to largely be white and Republican. Many of those with the loudest voices against the initiative do not have children, or could afford a private school for their children. Many more of the initiative's most vocal adversaries have children who attended affluent public schools from wealthy suburbs, which do not require as much MAEP funding to buttress school coffers.

Republican lawmakers also deliberately undermined the ballot initiative during the 2015 legislative session by creating a second, nearly identical, parasite ballot initiative - Initiative 42A - that was designed to confuse voters. Public school supporters accused these legislators of undermining democracy itself.

Now that the initiative has failed, legislators may continue to underfund K-12 schools as they have nearly every year but two. Those two years that saw full funding, not surprisingly, were election years.

With the defeat of the initiative, Mississippi will have one less weapon in its arsenal to battle years of economic failure. With educational options available to only the affluent and the wealthy, the state will likely continue to wallow at the bottom of every positive national chart. Forbes Magazine recently ranked Mississippi 50th as a state in which to do business, thanks to the state's lack of workforce development potential, stemming partially from its faltering K-12 school system. In addition, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Mississippi as 50th in Internet access, 50th in health care, 50th in job opportunities and - also not surprisingly - only the 49th most educated.

"By erecting a complicated system of barriers, the enemies of public education have assured that this state will continue to bring up the rear on social mobility," said Mississippi NAACP State President Derrick Johnson. "Education is the great equalizer, and it remains the best method through which an impoverished child may rise to a better life. By fighting this initiative from the beginning, legislators have made clear that only the affluent or the wealthy in this state will have a seat at the table and that poor children from poverty-stricken families will never have an equal playing field."

Johnson said the MSNAACP and its affiliate organizations will continue to fight to level the playing field for all Mississippians.

"The majority of Mississippians have made their wishes clear and we will not allow this state's leaders to reduce Mississippi to a two-tier society, where the wealthy have every advantage."
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Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors. For more information about the Mississippi NAACP or news stories, call 601-353-8452 or log on to www.naacpms.org.

By Elmetra Patterson