By Tommy Reynolds
January 6, 2015, is the opening day of the legislative session, and I am looking forward to another opportunity to bring the hopes, needs and voices of our people to the State Capitol.
A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State announced that the Better Schools/ Better Jobs folks had collected enough signatures from Mississippians to place an initiative on the ballot to try to guarantee our public schools with full funding under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). An initiative is a balloted measure that will provide a constitutional amendment if it is approved by the voters.
I supported and voted for the constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1992, which allowed citizens to propose amendments to our state constitution. This constitutional provision is not easy to use – nor should it be. It requires the signatures of at least 12 percent of qualified voters for the last gubernatorial election. Currently this is over 115,000 people.
And, I was also on the floor of the House when we voted on the historic MAEP. We passed that measure in an effort to make sure that every public school, no matter where it is located, or how wealthy its communities are, will have the same base funding per pupil as every other school in the state. MAEP has only been fully funded twice since we passed it in 1999 – both times during election years.
The program helps property tax poor districts such as ours in Water Valley and Coffeeville, especially. It also helps to assure that education is funded primarily through general state tax revenue rather than local property taxes. Not funding MAEP has caused an unfair tax burden on our local citizens. And, as those advocating for the “Better Schools/Better Jobs initiative” have argued, the great shortfall has hurt many public schools in this state.
The result has been about $1.5 billion shortfall for students and teachers in the form of missing materials, textbooks, computer access, teacher salaries, safe buses, appropriate support staff, teacher aides and many other aspects that go into creating a full learning environment for our students.
Now, there are some in political office that are saying they want to introduce an “alternative” initiative instead of the one that has already been requested by nearly 200,000 Mississippians. I will not support any effort to undermine the Better Schools/Better Jobs initiative through a so-called “alternative.”
I believe that the nearly 200,000 of our fellow Mississippians who have signed the Better Schools/Better Jobs initiative should be shown the respect for allowing this proposal to be voted up or down by the voters this November – without the insertion of a confusing measure conflicting on the ballot.
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main St., Water Valley, MS 38965, by email at email@example.com or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.