This May, the Mississippi Class of 2016 will graduate high school having attended underfunded schools for 85% of their education. They will be the 7th consecutive class to do so. According to state law definitions, schools have only been granted “adequate” resources twice in the last eighteen years. We are closing in on an entire decade of Mississippians reaching the working age without having had adequate preparation to compete with workers from other states.
In Jackson, apparently, there is no outrage. No gut checks. No panic. Only a resounding chorus of crickets.
Few would argue with the evidence of the growing funding crisis. Sure, you have your politicians covering tracks with selected statistics. You have your charter school lobbyists tripping over themselves to have us forget the shortfalls and instead fume about the failure they’ve left in their wake. And you’ve got a few ideologues seeking to sow doubt, whether in the funding formula or the worthiness of its goal.
For the most part, though, all hands are on deck in our state, hunting for solutions to the problem. This week in the Clarion Ledger, Danny Chandler suggested raising taxes on tobacco to offset education needs. Several have pointed to the state’s maxed-out “rainy day fund,” or the Legislature’s massive tax cut proposals, as evidence of options for shifting priorities. And then there’s Initiative 42, which would use future revenue growth to “phase in” the priority shift. Everyone seems to have an idea of how to make adjustments to get the schools the money they’re due by law. Everyone, that is, except the Mississippi State Legislature.
Funding MAEP wasn’t always controversial. Just over 8 years ago, Governor Barbour proudly announced his intention to fully fund the schools in perpetuity. But times have changed. These days, no- our boys and girls in Jackson have better things to do. They’ll call schools “abysmal failures” while underfunding them, they’ll stoop to unprecedented levels in order to confuse the voters, they’ll spread outright “horse crap” far and wide to mislead. But when it comes to actually doing their job- finding ways to get money to the schools to educate our kids… Nah, they seem content to just sit back with a mint julep and watch cohort after cohort of Mississippi graduates stumble off the cliff of competitive inadequacy.
Maybe somehow, they don’t know the poor folks in our state are in such bad shape.
Or maybe they know and just don’t care.
At any rate, voters in November may well decide they wish to solve the problem themselves by passing Initiative 42. Other voices say the people should continue trusting the Legislature to fix it instead. Seriously? When it comes to finding adequate funding for the schools NOW, they’re one of the few groups in Mississippi who seems to insist on doing nothing.