Initiative 42 vs. 42A: Mississippi education loses either way

October 28th, 2015     Opinion

Two competing “ballot initiatives” regarding education funding are the ballot items getting the most attention in the dwindling days before the November 3rd general election.

The races for governor, lieutenant-governor, secretary of state, etc. feature well-known, well-financed incumbents against unknown challengers, who have no money and no way of getting any.

The big money — hundreds of thousands of dollars — is riding on two proposed and competing amendments to the state constitution, both of which seek to control how K-12 education will be funded in Mississippi. The amount of broadcast and print advertising for the competing constitutional amendments is clearly greater than that of any other two contests on the ballot.

Supporters of “Initiative 42,” which is generally (but not universally) supported by the state’s educators say it would require the state government to fund education at the levels established by the 1997 Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). A legislative act characterized by formulas, which many see as arcane, MAEP was passed during the second administration of Governor Kirk Fordice and over his veto. MAEP supporters said its intent was to assure “adequate” funding for K-12 education in the state.

Those whose petition signatures placed “Initiative 42” on the November 3rd ballot say the Mississippi legislature has been short by $1.3-billion since 2011 in funding K-12 education up to the dollar levels required by the MAEP law. Initiative 42 gives the state ‘s chancery judges the authority to order  the state to “provide for the… support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.”

Initiative 42A (“Alternate 42”)was placed on the ballot by the state legislature with the intent of keeping chancery courts out of the battle and specifically forbids “judicial enforcement.”

Oxford attorney Daniel Sparks, speaking Monday night to the Union County Republican Women, said that both initiatives are flawed in that they use subjective, question-begging terms, rather than calling for any action that can be measured by objective criteria. Sparks said he was not recommending which — if either — of the two constitutional amendments voters should approve, but was pointing out that both Initiatives 42 and 42A use subjective terms such as “adequate,” “efficient,” and “effective.”

Sparks said the language of both initiatives lacks specificity, and that neither defines what is required in objective, quantitative terms. He said that both invite court challenges in which lawyers could/would argue ad nauseam about what is, in fact “efficient” and “adequate.”

Sparks also pointed out that, while Initiative 42 supporters say they want the amendment to require education funding at the levels specified in the 1997 MAEP law, that the MAEP requirement is not mentioned anywhere in the Initiative 42 ballot language.

Sparks explained that the ballot is confusing in that it actually required two different votes on the constitutional amendments. First the voter must mark whether he wants to approve either Initiative, or disapprove both. Then, in the second ballot question, the voter specifies which Initiative he supports, providing he has voted in the affirmative on the first question.

Other sources around the state, including the Jackson daily newspaper, have commented upon the confusing presentation of the two competing amendments on the ballot.

For more information on the General Election and to view the sample ballot, see: Prepare for Confusing Ballot

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