On Tuesday, Mississippi voters defeated Initiative 42, an amendment to the state constitution that would have forced the state to provide an “adequate and efficient” public education for all children. Specifically, the initiative tried to enforce the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), a funding formula that requires the state to fund school districts at adequate levels. Since 1997, school districts have only been funded twice at MAEP-required levels. Critics of the bill said Initiative 42 would have taken the funding allocation power away from legislators and given courts control over the funding process, allowing courts to move money away from “good schools” and “put it in other places.”
While Mississippi legislators are happy they still get to control public education funding, students are suffering. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Data Center, Mississippi ranks 50th in the nation in child well-being. In 2013, over a third of children there lived in poverty, a four percent increase since 2008. To further illustrate this point, almost three out of every four children in Mississippi are low-income, the highest rate in the nation.
Mississippi children are not showing up for kindergarten ready to learn—kindergarten that Mississippians fought so hard for. Research shows positive links between quality early childhood education and high school graduation rates. This research is fact in Mississippi: over half of Mississippi children do not attend preschool and 32 percent do not graduate high school on time.
National data show that students in low-income families are six times more likely to attend a high-poverty school—schools that are typically not “adequately” funded. Over the six-year period from 2008 to 2015, Mississippi decreased state funding by $623 per pupil. With the rejection of Initiative 42, will this downward trend in funding continue or will Mississippi’s legislators use their power to ensure that all of Mississippi’s children have access to quality education? Mississippi’s education governor, William Winter, deserves the last word here:
Education will always be an issue. The quality of education of our people is still going to leave a lot to be desired. Regardless of how far we go, we still have so much further to go [because] education, adequate education, is more important now than it ever has been because there are very few things people can do now without having a basic framework of education. When I was growing up, there would be good jobs for people who couldn’t even sign their name. But now you can’t have a satisfying, satisfactory life unless you have a good education. The key now lies, it seems to me, in doing whatever it takes to reduce that number of people who, for whatever reason, have never been able to acquire that education. The poorest schools are in the areas that are in need of the best schools. So our willingness to invest more of our resources in education I think is a political priority.