A battle over the way Mississippi handles state education budgets, headed for the November ballot, will give state voters the chance to decide who has the power to decide sufficient funding levels — if they can differentiate between a handful of confusingly-worded choices.
Democratic education supporters collected enough signatures to qualify a proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would require the state to fund “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” The amendment would give the state Chancery Court the authority to enforce funding levels.
But Republican opponents of the measure say it gives too much power to the court, which has 49 members spread across 20 districts. Their alternative would leave the power to make funding decisions in the hands of state legislators.
The Republican alternative passed the state House earlier this week, and it’s likely to pass the GOP-dominated Senate, too. It would be called Alternative 42; the ballot measure would be called Initiative 42.
If the measure passes the upper chamber, voters will face four choices on November’s ballot: They will be asked whether they want to vote both measures down, pass one measure without specifying which one, pass Initiative 42, or pass Alternative 42.
“All you’re doing is confusing the electorate,” state Rep. Bo Eaton (D) said on the House floor on Tuesday, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “Give them a chance. It may not pass. Or you may vote for confusion. It may be what you want. It’s been going on for 50 years.”
Legislators don’t have the greatest track record of funding the state’s education system, dubbed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. MAEP has been fully funded only twice since it became law in 1997, and education advocates say the public school system has been underfunded to the tune of about $1.5 billion in just the last six years.
Opponents of the ballot initiative said it would not fully fund MAEP either, and that it would lead to confusion.
With four choices on the ballot in November, confusion is certain, no matter which side voters support.