Shame on Mississippi

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I would wish shame on Lieutenant Governor Reeves, Speaker Gunn, and unpublicized members of the Mississippi Legislature if I believed they could actually feel it.

But obviously they can’t. They won’t. They are beyond humility, beyond self-awareness, and above all, beyond empathy for the suffering of real people in their state.

These men and the shadowy back door legislators who won’t name themselves have taken their war on Mississippi’s schools to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The people just want a chance to vote for full funding of their schools.  But these men will do anything and everything they can to silence the people of Mississippi.

I’d like to believe they can still feel shame, but if they aren’t ashamed of themselves already, they never will be.

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding law had been on the books since 1997.

The Legislature knew they were supposed to pay for adequate public schools.  They just didn’t want to. You can almost imagine early on, ignoring MAEP must have been an eyebrow raiser for the fresh young rookie legislators in Jackson.  “Really? We passed MAEP and we’re just gonna… ignore it anyway?  We can do that?”

But now it’s old hat- established tradition. Year after year, legislative sessions have come and gone, and it has become easier and easier for our leaders to kick the schools under the rug. Like they always do.

Oh, they wrap their shortchanging in pretty little press conference sound bites, bragging about so-called “record funding” but never quite addressing its obvious inadequacy. Perhaps because that would involve being in touch with the Mississippi communities they’re hurting. Like Ocean Springs, where schools aren’t allowed to raise local taxes any higher, but it’s still not enough; they’re still having to cut 41 positions.  Like Durant, where teachers are up until midnight every night finding resources for their kids because they don’t have enough money for textbooks. Like Carroll County, where the superintendent cut his own salary from $85,000 to $18,000 to keep the schools afloat.

You see- schools across the state are in crisis because even though the “record funding” is almost $100 million higher than last year, it’s still $211 million short of what state law requires. In fact, in the last six years, schools in Mississippi have been underfunded to the tune of $1.5 billion.  With a B. “Record funding,” they say.  Yeah, and add to that record local taxes, record layoffs, record resource shortages.  Can we say “record inadequacy”?  What schools do they think they’re actually helping?

So WE THE PEOPLE got involved.  Better Schools, Better Jobs collected petition signatures, and got a ballot initiative approved for the November election.  We the People could finally make our leaders follow the law.

The bandits of Jackson didn’t take that lying down.  They passed an alternative to the amendment- an almost identically-worded (but not quite!) dopplegänger initiative to place side by side with the original, turning the November ballot into a Penny Press logic puzzle. They even had the nerve to preen in front of the cameras as if their worthy-of-a-comic-book-villain scheme had accomplished something for a voter somewhere.

As fate would have it, Adrian Shipman of Oxford challenged this obvious confusion effort in court, and Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd struck the Alternative to Initiative 42 from the ballot.

The thugs of Jackson were down, but not out. Even though state ballot initiative law specifically says that Kidd’s decision was final and cannot be appealed, Reeves, Gunn, and the “Legislature” appealed. I use quotation marks because the Legislature itself did not actually ask for Reeves and Gunn to hijack its name for their personal use.  No vote was actually held on the matter.  Reeves and Gunn just assumed they’d want to be part of the fun, I guess, so they filed the appeal on the Legislature’s behalf.

Clearly, the Legislature hates having to follow the rulings of judges. Indeed, one of their chief criticisms of Initiative 42 is that it involves a Hinds County circuit judge in the school funding process.

Well… yeah. Of course it does. Going in front of a judge is kind of what you’re supposed to do when you break the law. Maybe they think they’re above the rest of us law abiding citizens.

I don’t know whether we’ll actually get a chance to make our voices heard. At this rate, if the supreme court sides with us, Tate Reeves and Philip Gunn, on behalf of “ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, NO FOR REAL YOU GUYS” will probably call for a temporary end to elections. Or maybe they’ll just pass half a dozen other similarly-worded alternatives to show their contempt for the voters of their state.

But I do know this: we did this.  We elected these people.  We sent them to Jackson on our behalf.

Shame on us if we make that mistake again.

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