by Walker Sturgeon
All Mississippians should vote yes on Initiative 42.
Whether you are black, white, liberal, conservative, religious or atheist, we can all agree that education is crucial to the preservation of our society. Nevertheless, many remain skeptical when it comes to Initiative 42 and I can hardly blame them. After all, our state and federal governments have not done a great job of prioritizing what to do with our tax dollars and many are rightfully apprehensive when addressing any new spending document.
Regardless of the numerous examples of failed state and federal expenditures, Initiative 42 deserves your full support. Allow me to lay some of your worries to rest by addressing the main complaints I have heard in relation to Initiative 42:
First, “The Mississippi public school system is broken and we’d be foolish to pump any more money into it.”
Our public school system is sadly lagging, and one of the main reasons is funding. Yes, we have invested more money in education, but according to the United States Census Bureau, our students are still forty eighth out of fifty states and the District of Colombia as to money spent per student.
We have decreased spending by nearly six percent per student since 2008. Then we wonder why Mississippi is last in so many categories.
People will continue to flee from our state and young families will continue to avoid Mississippi if we fail to turn things around. If you are worried about your tax dollars funding education, then let me ask you, what is a better expenditure of your tax dollars? Education for our children is the best imaginable use of our taxes. It should be the first thing funded, but in this state, it is not a top priority.
Our educators are forced to wait half a fiscal year for the Legislature to decide how much money will be delegated to education out of the general fund. This forces administrators to scramble the given school year’s budget in a very short period of time.
Other state funded institutions, such as prisons, are funded at a fixed rate at the beginning of each year. So, essentially, we take care of our prisoners then our students get the leftovers.
Granted, education usually makes up nearly sixty percent of the general fund, but K-12 education only represents sixteen to eighteen percent of overall state spending. We should not wonder why our schools are failing if we refuse to live up to the dream of our founding fathers, which brings me to my next point.
Second, “This is just more Democratic socialism, you don’t have a “right” to education.”
Our founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson who wrote our Declaration of Independence, George Washington, who won our independence, and James Madison who wrote our Constitution, all supported a state-funded, public education to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain our Republic.
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty” –Thomas Jefferson-
State-funded education is not some new, Democratic-Socialist driven idea, it is as near and dear to the hearts of our Founding Fathers as the Constitution itself. They understood the value of a prime education for our youth because they understood that liberty depended on an educated population for its preservation.
We have done a poor job of living up to their ideals in this state.
Third, this: “We have representatives for a reason. Do you really want to take the decision out of the hands of our elected legislators and put it in the hands of some judge in Jackson? This is a tyrannical measure aiming to circumvent our representative government to benefit a few teachers and corrupt administrators.”
I am a constitutional Libertarian and I absolutely support representative government. Initiative 42 is not some crazy, populist measure—it’s based on representative measures originally passed in 1997.
In 1997, the legislators our citizens elected voted to fully fund MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program.) Since then, our state has only funded the adequate standards twice. That means that we elected legislators, told them where we wanted our tax dollars to be spent and they have failed to do it.
MAEP is on the books and our legislators are required to fulfill the adequate standards; it is not depriving our legislators of power by asking that they do what they are required to do by law.
Some question the wording of Initiative 42 pointing out that “funding” is not explicitly referred to in the phrasing of the document. However, the document uses the word “adequate” for a reason—it is a reference to the MAEP formula used to calculate public education funding and that is the standard our legislators will have to fulfill, not the whims of some judge in Hinds County.
Initiative 42 is not about dismissing our representative government—it is about getting our legislators to do what they agreed to do, what they were elected to do, and what they should do by fully funding education.
Fourth, “Funding isn’t our problem, curriculum is. Change our sub-par public school curriculum and repeal common core then we’ll talk.”
Curriculum is indeed a problem in this state, and I would be lying if I told you Initiative 42 could magically repeal Common Core, but this measure will be a step in the right direction in two ways.
First, it will increase funding, which will attract fresh young teachers and administrators who will be able to help improve our curriculum on a local and state level.
Second, it will help our state to take responsibility for educating our own, which will in turn help us get the federal government out of our schools.
Many Mississippians complain about Common Core but are unwilling to assume a higher standard of accountability when it comes to educating our own. If you are serious about getting rid of Common Core, then you should support funding for a stronger, state based education. Without initiative 42, we will be stuck in mediocrity and stagnation forever.
Fifth, “There are so many Democrats supporting this that I could never support it. As a general rule, I don’t support anything Democrats support.”
Well, you’ve got me there.
If you truly do make your decisions purely in opposition to Democrats then I feel sorry for you. But I have more faith in the majority of patriotic, God and family loving, conservative Mississippians. We should all support Initiative 42. We should retake the responsibility of educating our own and help our state grow.
If we do not, we will continue to see the young people of this state flee to other states with greater educational opportunity.
(Walker Sturgeon was born in Natchez, Mississippi and grew up in Desoto County graduating from Desoto Central High School in 2010. He graduated from Ole Miss in 2015 with a double major in History and Southern Studies. While at Ole Miss, he walked on the football team and earned a scholarship his Jr. year. Sturgeon is a lifetime member of the M-Club as a two year letterman. He is currently a teaching aid at Pleasant Hill Elementary School and intends to pursue a Ph.D in history.)
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