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Adhere to the law
by Charlie Mitchell
It’s not unfair to say good government
supports law and order, is it?
It’s not unfair to say that a hallmark of good
government is that statutes, once passed, remain in effect until changed or
repealed, is it?
this is a problem for good government, law and order officials when it comes
to funding K-12 education in this state.
The Legislature passed a law. The Legislature is ignoring
it. And it’s not due to a lack of money or any emergency or crisis.
The Mississippi Legislature apparently just doesn’t want
to the state to do what they said the state must do.
And that’s big deal — or should be — in a state where
people strongly believe that laws — printed in black ink on white paper —
say what they say and mean what they mean.
Think about it. When President Obama recently used/abused
executive powers to help people illegally in America “come out of the
shadows” and, a week or so later, announced his decision to change American
policy toward the communists who rule Cuba, law and order people went
How can he ignore statutes? How can he bypass Congress?
Well, apply that same conversation to the Mississippi
Adequate Education Act, first passed in 1997.
To be honest, 17 years ago were not suddenly overcome
with affection for public schools. The school funding law was passed under
pressure. States without balanced education finance plans were being sued
and forced to act (raise taxes) by the federal government.
But those really were pretty good times for schools. A
six-year plan of pay raises, totaling about 30 percent, was also enacted for
The fiscal future looked bright.
The act directed the state Department of Education to use
formulas each year to determine total funding to be allocated by the
Legislature. The Department of Education has done the math faithfully.
There is nothing over-the-top in the formulas. No taxes
increases or radical “revenue enhancements” were part of the original
legislation and none have been enacted since.
And there have been challenges. While it’s often lamented
that the formulas have been fully funded only twice, in many other years it
was because the state didn’t have the money. There was this thing called
Katrina. And there was this thing called the Economic Recession of 2008.
But for this year — and under projections for the budget
year starting in July 2015 — the formulas will not be funded again. The
crucial difference is that the state does have the money. The state can
afford to follow its law, but is choosing not to do so.
That’s a big deal. Or should be.
For this year, the money that could have funded the
formulas completely was placed in a reserve “rainy day” fund. For the coming
year, two leading Democrats, Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson and Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, point out
that while 3 percent revenue growth is projected, the budget committee nor
the governor propose full funding.
possible this is a fit of legislative pique. Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is
representing several school district suing the state for back payments the
districts contend they are owed under the law as passed.
Separately, a citizen petition by the Better
Schools/Better Jobs coalition has been certified for the November ballot. It
also demands funds be provided under the law as passed.
All of this leaves state elected officials with two
With their law and order caps on, they could step
up and ’fess up. They could say schools don’t need all that money, vote to
amend the law, cancel the formulas and hope the U.S. Department of Education
But such a vote would be seen as against public
schools, which still have some public support even if they don’t have much
clout in the Capitol. Who would want to go into a re-election campaign
having voted to show less support for schools, even if it’s the honest thing
The alternative is to do nothing and hope voters
don’t notices, but that’s risky, too. In November, voters may see the names
of candidates seeking re-election right beside a ballot initiative demanding
they adhere to the formulas they set.
Embarrassing? Yes. But
lawmakers painted themselves into this corner. Are they people who support
schools? Are they people who believe laws should be followed or changed?
There’s plenty of time for assorted treachery and misdirection, but the
fundamental question is clear: Y’all passed the law. What’s the right thing
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at