Louisiana provides a horrifying glimpse at what can happen when something is protected in the state constitution. Unfortunately for Mississippi, too few people want to open their eyes and get that glimpse. The idea of looking at what happened to other states that placed public schools into a budget lockbox has rarely entered the current debate over Initiative 42. Such a self-absorbed lot, are we. The Louisiana constitution "protects" secondary and public education - at the expense of everything else. Supporters of historically black colleges and even LSU cringe every time there is a budget crunch as higher education suffers while public schools are shielded from budget cuts. The Louisiana constitution states:
This section is direct and provides more specific mandates than does Initiative 42 but the central premise is the same: The legislature must support a minimum level of support for public education. Louisiana can not cut funding for public schools unless two-thirds of the legislature agrees to reduce said spending. The chances of getting two-thirds of the legislature to agree to reduce education spending is as likely as Edwin Edwards going without a trophy wife.
§13. Funding; Apportionment
(B) Minimum Foundation Program. The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or its successor, shall annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems. Such formula shall provide for a contribution by every city and parish school system. Prior to approval of the formula by the legislature, the legislature may return the formula adopted by the board to the board and may recommend to the board an amended formula for consideration by the board and submission to the legislature for approval. The legislature shall annually appropriate funds sufficient to fully fund the current cost to the state of such a program as determined by applying the approved formula in order to insure a minimum foundation of education in all public elementary and secondary schools. Neither the governor nor the legislature may reduce such appropriation, except that the governor may reduce such appropriation using means provided in the act containing the appropriation provided that any such reduction is consented to in writing by two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature. ....
Whenever the legislature fails to approve the formula most recently adopted by the board, or its successor, the last formula adopted by the board, or its successor, and approved by the legislature shall be used for the determination of the cost of the minimum foundation program and for the allocation of funds appropriated. Copy of Section 13.
There is no way to sugarcoat it: Section 13 had been nothing short of a disaster for Louisiana public universities and colleges. Section 13 means that the budget pain is much worse for LSU, Grambling, and other universities than if it was shared by everyone. Some are more equal than others, you understand. Grambling's budget was cut by more than 50% in the last ten years. The News Star (Gannett) reported two years ago:
(Grambling President Frank) Pogue added that the university as a whole has lost more than half of its state funding over the last eight years, and additional revenue will need to be generated to keep athletics' funding at the current level. Article.Indeed, the Times-Picayune (Nola.com) reported earlier this year
Higher education is a big target because there are very few portions of the state budget that can be cut as easily thanks to legal constraints voted into the Louisiana constitution.It also reported in 2014 that Louisiana cut nearly half a BILLION dollars from higher education since 2008:
Many other areas for spending are locked in more than higher education. To shift money away from certain protected spending categories -- such as funding for nursing homes -- requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature, a high bar to clear. No such bar exists for cutting funding to colleges and universities.
The cuts to higher education may be particularly dramatic next year because Louisiana voted to protect another portion of the state health care budget in November. During the next fiscal session, as the state faces at least a $1.4 billion shortfall, the Legislature will have very few places they can cut funding -- leaving colleges and universities more vulnerable.
Louisiana has cut its higher education funding more than almost every other state, according to a few think tanks and organizations who examine college and university funding. Article.
Between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, Louisiana cut its annual higher ed budget by more than $459 million, a decrease of 28 percent. Only South Carolina (30.39 percent) and Arizona (32.25 percent) saw a larger change in total state funding for public colleges and universities, the report said. Article.The newspaper also reported
Higher education has already been subjected to cuts in state funding over the last seven years. The state's general fund support for higher education has dropped 46 percent since the 2007-2008 school year, according to the Louisiana House Budget Office.It is not fear-mongering to point out what has happened in other states thanks to constitutional protections for public schools. Such constitutional clauses pump up public schools while punishing public universities. Check the numbers in Louisiana. Louisiana universities faced even more cuts this year after voters passed two constitutional amendments last year that took Medicaid off of the budget-cutting table. Article. Mr. Barksdale never mentions LSU's fate under Section 13. The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus somehow ignores what has happened to Grambling while it pushes Initiative 42. Empirical evidence and actual experience is damned and forgotten because WE HAVE GOT TO DO SOMETHING AND DO IT NOW!!!
Lawmakers have generally offset these slashes in funding to public colleges and universities by increasing tuition and fees. But now that a large portion of health care funding will be locked away, it's likely that higher education funding will be on the chopping block more significantly. Article
Initiative 42 doesn't say anything about cuts. All it states is:
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.Adequate and efficient are NOT defined in this provision. The above paragraph will be the only language that is inserted into the state constitution. "Establishment, maintenance, and support" are not defined as well. A court will be able to write what it thinks adequate or support means upon a nice clean sheet of paper because there is nothing in Initiative 42 that tells him what he can or can not write. It literally gives a court Carte Blanche to "protect" "an adequate system of free public schools. Luther Mumford is a very sharp attorney and knew what he was doing when he wrote this initiative in such a vague manner.
There will be good times and bad times as state revenues rise and fall. Always have been, always will be. Some will say such a proposition misrepresents Initiative 42. However, there is nothing in the language that states a court* can't reverse budget cuts if it determines said cuts will harm the "support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools"?
Initiative 42 supporters are taking a stand and planting their flag on the battlefield of education. However, they close their eyes and refuse to discuss the consequences of what will happen if their little project becomes enshrined in the Mississippi Constitution. They accuse opponents of fear mongering if they mention the consequences of changing the constitution.
It is not fear mongering to tell people what will happen if one area of the budget is protected from budget reality. It will ensure that tough times are tougher for some than others. One doesn't need a PhD in Economics or be a CPA to understand that sparing one part of the budget means other parts will suffer even more. Medicaid. Ole Miss. Jackson State. UMMC. Prisons. Drug Courts. You get the idea. All were suffer even more if we ignore what happens in Louisiana and place public schools into a lockbox. A lockbox that has crippled higher education in our neighboring state. Ignore Louisiana at Mississippi's peril.
*Court can mean chancery court or appeals court for the purposes of this discussion.