BY: Dr. Scott Elliott | President, Meridian Community College

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” should never be confused with optimum problem solving.

Yet, Mississippi may be perilously posed to do just that where public education is concerned. I am, of course, referencing Initiative 42, which will be voted upon by Mississippians on Nov. 3. It is a referendum calling for the full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) under any circumstances, meaning whether the State (based on tax revenues) can afford it or not.

I can’t imagine anyone arguing over the merits of stronger support for our public school children and teachers. It’s obvious that the Legislature favors increased K-12 funding, witness the $110 million new dollars appropriated to public schools for FY16 inclusive of a guaranteed faculty pay increase. And the Legislature’s bolstering of public school coffers didn’t just start last session. On the contrary, from FY2000-2015, state appropriations on a per student basis increased about 50 percent for K-12. In contrast, community college funding per student during that same time frame decreased over 14 percent, while university support declined almost 8 percent.

That said, it’s inarguable that full funding of MAEP has rarely been achieved. It’s a geometrically progressive formula that some state leaders would describe as “chasing a rabbit that you never quite catch.” Therefore, MAEP could be characterized more accurately as an aspiration rather than an absolute.

Well, hey, welcome to Mississippi. We have a lot of worthy aspirations, and truth be known, the state is making good progress on many of them, i.e., getting out of the business of funding recurring costs with “one-time money” like some other neighboring states that are woefully in the red. Still, it remains that Mississippi is among the poorest of states and, therefore, shouldn’t thumb its nose at incremental progress.

Neither can we ignore harsh realities. For instance, if Initiative 42 passes, the Legislature has only three choices to achieve guaranteed full funding of MAEP and avoid the specter of deferring the issue to chancery court. Lawmakers can either (1) cut the budgets of other state-funded agencies and re-direct those monies to K-12 or (2) raise taxes to produce additional revenues or (3) enact some combination of the two.

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