Some have said the Mississippi Republican Party has made the Initiative 42 ballot question a partisan political issue. And, those who do say it, do so with more than a little derision in their ink.
Mea culpa. Yes. I fully admit this is a political issue. It's on the November ballot and it's about no less than how we make public policy in this state. It would have been flat out irresponsible for the state Republican Party to ignore what could be the most radical shift in power and accountability in Mississippi governance, ever.
What's more, the effort to amend the Mississippi Constitution via Initiative 42 is being financed through and run by Washington, D.C., groups with deep liberal roots. Indeed, while these outside-Mississippi special interest groups pump millions into amending our state constitution, only a little over $1,000 has been donated from actual Mississippi residents.
If Initiative 42 were to pass, a single judge, accountable only to a portion of voters in Hinds County, would be tasked with deciding what an "adequate and efficient" system of public schools means. It's very important to note, by the way, that the MAEP formula is nowhere mentioned in the constitutional amendment proposed by Initiative 42.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Would that single judge, urged on by whatever lawyer brings the lawsuit, decide that it is more efficient for wealthier school districts to send some of its state funding to poorer school districts?
Would the judge decide that it is more efficient to close some local school districts and ship kids off to a neighboring school system?
Would the judge decide that no less than an additional $201 million in funding qualifies as adequate and that the state needs to spend that, even if it means raising taxes or cutting funds to health care or infrastructure to do so?
Would the judge decide that it is so crucial to put more money into MAEP that non-MAEP education programs - like buildings and buses, pre-K, and teacher supplies and instructional materials - need to be cut?
Do we really want education policy and funding to become the dominant issue in judicial races?
These aren't outrageous hypotheticals. These are real-life potential outcomes if a judge is given the power of a super-legislator as Initiative 42 would provide.
Think about it this way: Would you want to shift power to a judge to make policy and funding decisions over other critical areas of state government, such as transportation, higher education or health care? No. Policy and funding decisions like these belong in the hands of locally elected legislators who are accountable to Mississippi voters at the ballot box. This time-honored and uniquely American system is what gives the people a voice in public policy.
The fact of the matter is that under Republican leadership we're making tremendous progress in education. This year, Republicans put more money into our public schools than ever before in our state's history. We supported teachers with the second largest pay raise in Mississippi history. We invested in early childhood literacy with $39.5 million in reading coaches and the Third Grade Gate reading assessments. We expanded charter schools, giving parents more power over their children's education.
There are good people -- on both sides of the issue -- who are involved in this ballot initiative because they truly care about public education. But, the truth is that the radical shift in governance proposed by Initiative 42, and driven by non-Mississippi special interest groups, cannot be the answer. That is why the Mississippi Republican Party is urging Mississippians to vote against amending the constitution by voting "against both," and then for the alternative initiative, 42A, if the constitution is to be amended.
Write Spencer Ritchie, executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party, at firstname.lastname@example.org.