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Report To The People

Underfunding Education Blocks Road Out Of Poverty

By Tommy Reynolds


Last week an alternative version to the Better Schools/Better Jobs initiative was passed by a closely divided House of Representatives. The Better Schools/Better Jobs initiative, which was signed by approximately 200,000 Mississippians, was scheduled to appear on the ballot in November as “Initiative 42.” Initiative 42 would require the state to provide an adequate and efficient system of public education.
As a result of the House of Representatives’ action last week, an alternative version to the Better Schools/Better Jobs initiative will also appear on the ballot. A measure called “House Concurrent Resolution 9” was rushed for immediate action to a Constitution Committee meeting with no advance warning on January 12 and was passed as an “Alternative Amendment” to Initiative 42.     
I was one of the four members of the House Constitution Committee who voted against placing the alternative version on the ballot.
The Bill which was passed out of committee on January 12 along partisan lines was the first order of business on the House floor the next day. The bill was prepared without any input from the House Education Committee.
Those of us who oppose the so called “Alternative Amendment” spent about two hours explaining to our colleagues the pitfalls and dangers of another initiative that “without a careful reading, appeared to be the same as the original.” The voters of the State of Mississippi have submitted several initiatives to the people for their consideration in the past, and the topics covered included personhood, voter identification requirements, term limits and other matters.
Yet, the Legislature in the past has never offered an alternative when a sufficient number of voters said they wanted a measure to be considered.
The debate in the House of Representatives centered around the meaning of three words “adequate,” “efficient” and “effective.”
Supporters of HCR9 said that there should be an “effective” system of public education rather than an “adequate and efficient” system.
On the House floor, I read the Merriam Webster Dictionary definitions of “adequate” and “efficient” to the membership, and this helped to frame the debate on what the two words actually meant.
“Adequate” means, “enough for some need or requirement good enough of a quality that is good or acceptable of a quality that is acceptable, but not better than acceptable.”
“Efficient” means, “effectual, efficacious, effective, fruitful, operative, potent, productive.”
Despite our best efforts to insure that the voters of Mississippi had a clear choice as to whether they wanted to adopt Initiative 42; HCR9, the alternative version, passed on a largely party line vote with some Republican members joining all Democratic members in opposition to the alternative being placed on the ballot.
As a wise Mississippian once said “The road out of poverty leads past the schoolhouse door.” We cannot continue to underfund our educational system to the tune of $1.5 billion over the last few years and expect the quality of life of our people to improve as fast as it needs to.
All of our citizens have a great interest in promoting an adequate educational system that produces the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money, and citizen initiatives designed, in their opinion, to promote education in this state do not need to be confused by political maneuvering.
I am for leaving it to the will of the voters as to what they want on an initiative without hopelessly trying to confuse them.
No doubt, you will be hearing more about this issue as the election draws nearer. When November 4 comes, it will be very important that voters carefully look at their ballots and do indeed vote either for or against the proposed initiative. I hope that the will of the voters will be clearly expressed and will not be thwarted by a confused alternative.
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N Main St., Water Valley, MS 38965, by email at thomasureynolds@bellsouth.net or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.

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