Mississippi voters will endure the battle over Initiative 42 as ads and arguments blanket the airwaves, media, and of course, Facebook. JJ thought it might be a good idea to start from scratch and post the actual proposed amendments that will be on the ballot.
The current section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution states:
The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.
Initiative 42 proposes to change that language with this amendment:
To protect each child's fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.
or if one wants to compare the two:
This is the language that will appear in the constitution and carry the force of law if approved. It shifts the funding of education from the Mississippi Code to the Constitution. The amendment does not define "adequate" or "efficient" but instead leaves them to be decided by the courts. It will be much harder to cut education funding or fund education below a level deemed to be "adequate and efficient" if such language is enshrined in the Mississippi Constitution.
Supporters of Initiative 42 also submitted this explanation with the proposed amendment to the Secretary of State:
Summary: The amendment will protect each child's fundamental right to educational opportunity through the 12th grade by amending Section 201 so that the state must provide and the legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The recommendation is to finance this not by new taxes but by using a portion of future increases in general fund revenues over the next seven years in order to reach the necessary level of funding.
Amount and Source of Revenue Required to Implement the Initiative:One question worth asking is how much of the summary and additional explanation will be included in the constitution or carries the force of law if Initiative 42 passes. One answer: Zero. The summary and explanation will not be inserted into the constitution if Initiative 42 is passed. It will carry no force of law. It is merely a recommendation. It is nice, informative, and even educational in nature but it carries no force of law. A chancellor can consider it when adjudicating a case but he can also completely ignore it if he so desires. In other words, it is not controlling. Constitutional fluff. That is not a criticism of the summary and recommendation but simply a statement of fact about its status in court.
For purposes of the initiative, a minimum standard of contemporary adequate education is described by the funding formula of the current version of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and an efficient education is one that will, among other things, enable Mississippi's public school graduates to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states.
Funding the initiative will not require a reduction in, elimination of, or reallocation of funding from any currently funded programs. The initiative will be funded by maintaining current funding levels for public education through the 12th grade adjusted for inflation, and then devoting to public education not less than 25% of future increases in general fund and other tax collections in order to achieve the constitutionally required level of adequacy and efficiency in the public educational system by a target date of Fiscal Year 2022 and maintain it in the future. For example, the state's general fund revenues are projected to increase over Fiscal Year 2014 levels by approximately 3% annually, which will produce an additional $150 million in Fiscal Year 2015. Twenty-five percent of that would be $37.5 million. A similar amount for seven years would reach the additional $265 million a year in current dollars which will be needed to provide Mississippi's public school students with an education that is adequate and efficient by contemporary standards. This initiative is not intended to restrict or meaningfully reduce the overall percentage of general fund revenues devoted to public schools, which at present is approximately 40% If enforcement is necessary, injunctive relief will be the preferred remedy.
The amendment also states that suits shall take place in the Chancery Courts of Mississippi. However, state law directs that such suits be filed in Hinds County.
However, the legislature passed an alternative proposed amendment that will appear next to Initiative 42:
Section 201: The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.
Those are the two proposed constitutional amendments. This fight should be a good one.