Philip Gunn said he takes offense when people say Mississippi’s leaders aren’t education-minded.
The speaker of Mississippi’s House of Representatives visited the Columbus Rotary Club to rally support against Initiative 42.
Initiative 42, along with its counterpart, 42A, will go before voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
Initiative 42 would require the state to fund an “adequate and efficient system of free public schools,” according to the funding formula of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The initiative would also give chancery courts the power to enforce the state doing so.
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.
Gunn decried the claim that the state Legislature does not put enough funding into education. During his presentation Tuesday, he asked the audience how much of the state’s budget they would be comfortable with allotting to K-12 education. Most agreed with about 15-25 percent.
Gunn said legislators appropriate 40-45 percent of the state’s budget to K-12 schools. With funding for the state’s colleges and universities, the figure jumps to more than 50 percent and including Medicaid spending pushed the total to 76 percent. Gunn said that left legislators with just 24 percent of the budget to fund the rest of the state’s needs.
“This year, we gave education at $2.5 billion,” he said. “That is the largest amount of money that public education has ever received in the history of our state. Over the last four years under Republican leadership, we’ve given them $9.5 billion. That is the largest amount in a term ever in the history of our state.”
Increasing education spending could lead to cuts in other areas, from universities and the department of transportation, to cuts to the state Department of Corrections, Gunn said. He said the only other option to deal with the heightened spending would be to increase taxes, which state Republican leadership will not allow.
Gunn said Initiative 42’s proponents and media have wrongly framed the issue as a matter of school funding. Rather, he said, Initiative 42 is about a struggle to determine who will make decisions about the state’s education system — the people, who he said act through elected legislators, or judges.
Gunn went on to point out that any lawsuits filed against the state as a result of Initiative would have to go through chancery court in Hinds County, as it houses Mississippi’s seat of government.
“All of it is about education decision — policy and funding,” Gunn said. “What if this judge decides that the curriculum that you’re using in your school system is not adequate?”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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