BY: Jerel Wade

It is hard to argue against “it’s for the kids.”

Have you ever noticed how many commercials on television use children to make a sale? Ever realized how many politicians will use their kids in their advertising? Heck, even I used my own son to record a radio spot during the last primary election.

Why? Because it is hard to argue against children.

I have no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of those who are for and against Initiative 42 genuinely want our schools to be better. But, there is no proof that an increase in money will change the performance of any school district.

Initiative 42 has been billed as a citizen’s initiative to fully fund education based on the MAEP formula. It took some 107,000 signatures from parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens to appear on the ballot. Far more than that number were obtained, often through uninformed school personnel who, too, wanted a better environment for their students.

What appears on the surface to be an opportunity for the average citizen to have a voice in the funding of public schools turns out to be far more of a political power-grab once the layers are peeled back.

For starters, the wording of the proposed change to Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution makes no mention of funding, no mention of the MAEP formula, and takes the final authority of providing an adequate public education system out of the hands of the legislature and gives it to the judiciary. It opens the door for a chancery judge in Hinds County to dictate educational spending and policy, potentially forcing the state to cut appropriations of other state agencies in order to meet the judge’s wishes.

Initiative 42 was penned by Luther Munford, a civil rights and appellate attorney with the large Butler Snow law firm in Jackson. He partnered with attorney David Sciarra, a New Jersey-based attorney who also practices in civil rights litigation. Mr. Sciarra represented the plaintiff in a landmark case, Abbott v. Burke, that has rewritten educational funding in New Jersey, especially for low-income and minority students. That state has seen over 20 lawsuits in the last three decades that have cost billions of dollars without making dramatic changes in the educational attainment of its students.

The fact that two civil rights attorneys, who know and understand completely the importance of wording, would write a ballot initiative that seeks to control policy and funding in the poorest state in the union leads one to think Initiative 42 is anything but a citizen’s initiative.

But, it doesn’t stop there.  

Since its start in 2014, 42 for Better Schools, the political action committee formed to promote Initiative 42, has received over $1.5 million from the New Venture Fund, a Washington, D.C. based, liberal-leaning charity that funnels money to organizations like the Clinton Global Initiative and Planned Parenthood. Another $1 million has been received from the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation, a group that promotes public schooling of three and four year olds, and has Democratic former Secretary of State Dick Molpus as a board member.

With this out-of-state money, 42 for Better Schools has hired two Democratic operatives as campaign managers. Jonathan Compretta is an attorney who has spearheaded Attorney General Jim Hood’s last two campaigns. Michael Rejebian is a journalist who works for Democratic candidates to do oppositional research on their opponents.

It is no secret that many educational associations and organizations in Mississippi typically endorse Democratic candidates for office. They share a big-government, tax-and-spend, liberal mentality that has seen the values held dear in most Mississippi communities be eroded away within the public schools. With all of these facts combined, it seems the movers-and-shakers of Initiative 42 are lined up more from ideology than a desire to help the children.

Now, consider the fact that the house, senate and governor’s mansion in Jackson are all controlled by Republicans. The last four years have seen a Republican agenda change the direction of state politics. For a party that has been in control since the end of the Civil War, losing this much power is a hard pill for Democrats to swallow.

The steam for this initiative has been building for over a year and a half. No doubt, those involved at its inception were working for a year or so prior to its launch to the public. The very beginnings of this process started shortly after Republicans gained control of policy and appropriations of this state. Certainly, it has left many politicians and organizations bitter.

The MAEP formula was passed by a Democratic-led house and senate in 1997. For the next 14 years, the Democrats controlled the capitol, yet only fully funded it twice, both during election years. Why weren’t these politicos interested in helping the children then?

Republicans have increased the education budget during each of the last two legislative sessions. Currently, K-12 education has its largest budget in history. There have been more opportunities given to parents to make decisions for the educational needs of their children. There has even been some disagreement among Republicans as to how far to go to give students the opportunities to have the best education possible.

I’m no political expert. I’m nothing more than a concerned citizen who happens to be the father of a public school student, the husband of a public school teacher, and hold the position of a public school administrator. But, when I look at all of these layers that surround Initiative 42, I see a well-orchestrated power grab that seeks to regain control of educational policies and the majority of the state budget through a means other than the election process.

Children are the best sales pitch. Whether selling magazines subscriptions, cookie dough, or political favors, if one can make it about the kids, the bill of goods is easier to buy. We all want what is best for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. And, the political power structure knows this.

This movement anticipates that the average voter is asleep at the wheel. The hope is that whatever the message against Initiative 42, all that the people will hear is “it’s for the kids.” The brokers of this monstrosity expect parents, teachers, and administrators to do their bidding for them by making promises that are nowhere to be seen in the initiative. More money for the classrooms, more money for students’ needs, more money, more money, more money…

But, the framers of 42 don’t mention money or funding in the initiative.

So, how much are you willing to pay for other people to have power and control?

Jerel Wade is an educator and small business owner from Jones County, Mississippi. He can be reached at jerelwade@hotmail.com.

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5 thoughts on “WADE: The Power Grab for Public Education

  1. I’m a public school teacher. I’m also a Republican who supports 42. The initiative would increase education funding over a period of several years, and only if there is a surplus. The notion that funding public schools would take money from other state-funded agencies is untrue.

    Sure, “there is no proof that an increase in money will improve the performance of any school district,” but surely you can agree there might be a correlation between Mississippi’s rankings as last or nearly last in both education and public education spending.

    As a state, we’re going to spend money on these children somewhere. It can be now, to provide them a quality education, comparable to what students in other states receive, to allow them the opportunity to get decent jobs and contribute to society. Or it can be later, when our tax dollars are providing assistance for poorly educated adults who can’t get a decent enough job to make ends meet.

    1. Abby, thank you for your comment. The notion that a “phase-in” approach would be used is simply not stated in the initiative. The explanation of how the initiative could be implemented will not be a part of the constitutional change, only the actual wording of the initiative. Conveniently, the major supporters of I42 leave out the actual proposed language change to the state constitution when rallying support. Again, nowhere in the actual initiative is funding even mentioned.

    2. Please show me where in the actual Initiative 42 it states that it could be done over a several year period. Only the petition states that, not the actual Initiative. We are voting on the Initiative not the petition. A single judge will have the right to decided how the state is required to pay for the full funding of education, it then will be reviewed by the supreme court. So, there is no verbiage that limits is from taking from any other agency. There is also no verbiage that will limit the amount of power that the judge can suggest. This adaption ultimately takes the power from the elected officials of MS to a group of judges.

  2. Abby,

    While I am not a school teacher, I come from a long line of teachers within my family and I thank you for your willingness to teach the children in our state. There are times when I wonder how in the world did some of the members of the Mississippi Legislature get elected but then again putting the power in the hand of one person or a few just doesn’t seem like the best way to determine how to more forward with this most important area of our state. I am curious why you think it is a good idea for a judge or judges to have the authority or power or whatever word you like to use to structure the substance and financing of Mississippi’s public education system?

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