BY: B. Keith Plunkett | UCF Staff   @Keithplunkett

In an AP feature article that ran over the weekend about former Netscape and FedEx executive Jim Barksdale, and his push for education in Mississippi, he said of his support of Initiative 42:

“Think about the justice. Think about the common good. The common good is to get our children education to the highest level we can.”

Feel good statements like this tend to get nods of agreement from most folks, which in turn gives a mistaken air of credibility to the underlying project. After all, who would truly be against justice or getting “our children” to the “highest level” of education? No one right?

Grandiloquent calls for justice, equity, or balance absent ethics is little more than statism, a useful tool of those seeking power without having to answer tough questions.

Surely a person of Mr. Barksdale’s business acumen would know the difference between what sounds like a good idea and whether implementation of that idea is sound. But then again, he has invested a lot of time, money and personal reputation in the “good idea” that is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). His push for Initiative 42 to double down and invest more taxpayer money in the program is a way for Barksdale to keep the grand idea alive despite its obvious flaws.

Only in a dreamland would anyone put forth an idea without at least first testing the veracity of the claims of benefit. But, that is exactly what MAEP does. It’s a formula dreamed up that has no basis in fact, no pilot program used to test it’s claims, and no explanations presented to the public of how it would work in a real scenario.

It doesn’t, in its current state, need to be fully funded, ever. At best it needs to be killed, but at least the law should undergo serious legislative reforms.

MAEP allows for administrators to further manipulate rules – something they already do with great regularity – to collect more in taxpayers funds and reduce the responsibility they have to produce outcomes to justify the investment.

The only explanation given to the general public regarding MAEP is that it exists and that it is underfunded, ergo education is underfunded. To government school shills, education has become funding and funding has become education. That’s a leap in logic that too many of our public officials accept without challenge.

Why? Because Jim Barksdale has money. Lot’s of it. He’s the richest man in Mississippi. And money in the world of our current politics trumps reality and courage for too many in the positions of government power, as well as for those with ambition to be in those positions themselves one day.

While the song and dance continues in Jackson, the real danger is that Initiative 42 allows a single judge to do way more than “fully fund” “adequate” education, as is claimed. It will also allow a single judge the ability to determine what is and is not “adequate”.

Not only could this broadly written initiative allow for a judge to decide funding, he or she could also implement personnel changes, make demands for changes in property taxes in a given county, consolidate schools, and review and revise budgets, and that is just the financial side. There could also be judicial rulings that lead to curriculum changes such as further implementation of Common Core and more liberal sex education policies.

A little less of this and a little more of that. A lawsuit here and a lawsuit there. Who knows what scheme’s could be implemented if only a single person could make all these decisions happen with the magic pounding of a gavel?

It’s a nightmare scenario whereby the people will no longer have an avenue to challenge the standing of how their tax dollars are being spent, nor how their children are being educated.

No, Mr. Barksdale, Initiative 42 and MAEP are not attempts at justice. They are both a grab for power.

Justice requires ethics. The treatment of parents and students as a means to an end (more money, more control, more power), rather than the stated purpose of the exercise (education), proves this has not a whiff of justice in it.

What would ethical education reform look like?

It would do away with the complex management schemes that have given rise to an education bureaucracy that eats up large sums of money in non-instructional expenditures, especially in those school districts that are supposedly “underfunded”, and it would instead rely on parents and students to make their own decisions.

Let’s have the legislature debate and decide how much money per student we should spend, then let the money follow the child wherever that student and their parents decide it should go. And then tell a majority of the bureaucrats at the Department of Education Central Office in Jackson and at posh school district offices across the state to go find another job.

As Economist Ernst F. Schumacher wrote, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”

It also doesn’t hurt that this type of decentralization of power is the most moral and, to reinforce the point . . . ethical.

Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund. He has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by email at or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett

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