School funding contract will be secret no more

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood AP File

Not long after the Mississippi attorney general said the House was violating the law by keeping a contract secret, House and Senate officials said the contract would be released to the public.

Attorney General Jim Hood said earlier Monday the state’s contract with the New Jersey consultant EdBuild should have been posted on the Mississippi Transparency website.

“The policy recently adopted by the House is not effective to prohibit publication of legislative contracts such as the one with EdBuild,” Hood wrote in a letter to House officials Monday. “Section 25-61-17 of the Public Records Act does allow the Legislature to regulate public access to legislative records. But it also states: ‘However, notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Legislature shall be subject to the provisions of Sections 27-104-151 through 27-104-159, namely, the Mississippi Accountability and Transparency Act.’

“This law requires the EdBuild contract to be placed on the Transparency website within 14 days of execution.”

About an hour later, the House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden and Senate Speaker Pro Tem Terry Burton issued a joint statement saying the contract would be posted.

“When the agreement was approved in October, the terms of the Legislature’s contract with EdBuild to review school funding was shared with the public,” the statement said. “Over the last four days as House and Senate leadership continued to study the issue, legislative legal staff concluded the contract should be posted to the Transparency Mississippi website. The contract has been released to the Department of Finance and Administration to be posted on the Transparency Mississippi website.”

EdBuild is advising the Legislature on whether or how the Mississippi Adequate Education Program should be overhauled. The Legislature has fully funded public schools in accordance with that law only twice in the MAEP’s 20 years of existence.

The House Management Committee on Nov. 15 voted to keep that contract secret, saying other House members could look at the contract, but couldn’t report the contract’s contents to the public.

Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said the Legislature has exempted itself from the Public Records Act since 1983.

Hood is the only Democrat in statewide office. Republicans hold super-majorities in both the House and Senate.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton