LENA MITCHELL: Three Mississippi House gun bills could endanger all of us

LENA MITCHELL

The Initiative 42 petition drive that began in the summer of 2014 was a carefully planned and executed grassroots effort to engage and inform parents and other education stakeholders about increasing funding for K-12 schools.

Parents and others were eager to support the drive to guarantee some minimal level of funding to Mississippi's local school districts.

Although the Mississippi Adequate Education Program was passed by the Mississippi Legislature in 1997 to assure at least an adequate level of funding, the state’s education budget has only met that minimal level twice in 18 years.

In fact, at the same time the rest of the United States economy was floundering, I reported on local Northeast Mississippi school districts that, like the rest of the state, suffered three funding cuts by the state between January 2009 and May 2010, requiring teacher layoffs and cuts in other programs.

When the folks at Better Schools, Better Jobs devised the ballot iniitiative to amend Mississippi's Constitution as a way to guarantee that other pet projects of state Legislators would not take priority over student educational needs, I joined others in applauding the creativity of this approach.

Usually Republican leadership approves wholeheartedly when people band together and use their initiative to solve their own problems – make their voices heard – as proponents of Initiative 42 have done.

Not this time, however.

Legislative leaders and other elected officials fear losing some of the power they wield in the budget process.

Children have no power, so the only way their concerns and educational needs will be addressed and given priority is through the voters who support Initiative 42.

Once supporters of Initiative 42 gathered the more than 200,000 petition signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot, opponents got busy mischaracterizing what the initiative does and how it will be administered.

State officials have threatened cuts to other state agencies if education gets full funding.

What about all the years education has been shortchanged? Last year alone the state Department of Education was underfunded by $250,000, according to a spokesman for Better Schools, Better Jobs.

I’ve read plenty of columns and articles that present an opposing argument to Initiative 42, most of them stressing that the constitutional change would remove authority that should belong only to the Legislature.

But the Legislature hasn’t been doing such a great job for our kids, have they?

As one article reminded me, the tobacco settlement included money for education, but Legislators managed to gain complete control over that, and not only doesn't it help education, the degree to which it helps with reducing Mississippians' use of tobacco has been severely limited as well.

Remember casino money? It was supposed to help education as well, but it has gone to who knows what other priority of our Legislators.

For voters who will vote in favor of Initiative 42 on Nov. 3, please examine available sample ballots carefully before casting your vote.

One thing the Legislature has done to try to block passage of Initiative 42 is to create an alternative called Initiative 42A, which makes it more confusing to make your voting intentions clear.

To vote in favor of Initiative 42, which changes the Mississippi constitution to require adequate education funding, you will need to mark two spaces on the ballot: “For approval of either Initiative Measure No. 42 or Alternative Measure No. 42 A;” and also the space “For Initiative Measure 42.”

Lena Mitchell is a retired daily reporter for the Daily Journal and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.

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