As the November election creeps closer, voters statewide find themselves under siege from both sides of the education funding debate.
Citizens rallied signatures last year to ensure Initiative 42 made it on the ballot. The measure would enable judicial enforcement of the 1997 Mississippi Adequate Education Program, and force the state legislature to fully fund public schools.
Opponents to the measure in the state Legislature have put forth an alternate measure, 42A, which would require lawmakers to support an “effective system of free public schools,” but with no judicial oversight.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann realizes many residents are confused by the competing measures. At a visit to the Lowndes County Circuit Clerk office Monday, he tried to simplify the issue.
“People need to focus on the actual language,” Hosemann said. “The ballot itself will actually show the two constitutional amendments. So, it will have 42 here and 42A, and a summary that was put out by the Legislative budget and also the ballot initiative as drafted by the attorney general. It’s only confusing if you don’t read it. So, I’m recommending to people — read this.”
When asked to explain the differences between the two, Hosemann kept it simple.
“There’s really only about three or four words and a sentence between the two,” Hosemann said. “One of them — the one proposed by the Legislature (42A) — establishes support of ‘effective’ public schools. The other one (42) is establishing support of and ‘adequate and efficient system of free public schools’… and then there’s the court issue.”
The “court issue” is judicial enforcement of the funding, which would likely, but not necessarily, be overseen by the Hinds County Chancery Court. Hosemann said that is the biggest difference between the two.
Voters will have to check two boxes to cast a vote to amend the state constitution. First, voters will be presented with two options: The approval of either Initiative 42 or Measure 42A, or the rejection of both 42 and 42A. Hosemann said this option is given because some citizens may not want to change the state constitution in any way. Voters who select to approve either will then check a separate ballot box to decide between 42 and 42A. Hosemann felt it was important to give citizens the option to not alter the constitution at all.
In order to pass, 42 or 42A would need to receive at least 40 percent of the vote. Should more than 50 percent of voters select to reject both, the motion will die.
“Mississippians are a little bit testy about amending the constitution,” Hosemann said. “In the past, actually, they’ve amended it half the time.”
The current law, Section 201, would provide the same powers as 42A.
“Clearly the legislature did not want to subvert its particular ability to allocate education funds, which are 40-50 percent of the whole budget,” Hosemann said. “They didn’t want to subvert that to anybody. They want the Legislature to maintain that specific task, and they specifically adopted 42A to offset that so that the Legislature would continue to allocate taxpayer income out. I think if you listen to the people who spoke for 42A, they were pretty clear. They put that in there in the hopes 42 would not pass and the Legislature would continue to allocate education funding in the state. They didn’t like the part about the court being there. And they put this in with the specific intent to make sure it didn’t pass.”
Through eight public hearings the secretary of state’s office has conducted on the issue, court oversight has been the most bitterly contested.
“The review by the judiciary, and there’s a lot of discussion about that, ‘Should we have judiciary review or not? And where should it be or not? Are we turning over some of our Legislative function to a court or not?’ those are the discussions happening in public hearings,” Hosemann said.