Amendment needed to correct underfunding

When is a promise not a promise?

And when do we get to pick and choose which promise we keep?

Seventeen years ago, the Mississippi Legislature promised to fund a basic, adequate education for all our school children so that every school district could offer a respectable educational program, no matter whether it was a prosperous district or not.

The program, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or MAEP, assured us all that the state was committed to well educated workers and thriving communities.

Unfortunately, MAEP has been fully funded only twice in 17 years.

Because of those unkept promises, our local schools have been underfunded by more than $1.5 billion in the past six years.

For Brookhaven schools, that’s more than $7.1 million. For Lincoln County schools, it comes to nearly $8 million. Ask their school boards what they could have accomplished with those funds you sent to Jackson for that purpose.

A Mississippi organization called Better Schools, Better Jobs seeks signatures to put on the November 2015 ballot a question for voters: Should the state be required to support an adequate and efficient system of free public schools? Yes or no.

While the organization suggests one way for the Legislature to do that – by designating at least 25 percent of “new,” uncommitted funds from economic growth – it is merely a proposal. The Legislature would be fully capable of deciding how best it can fulfill that voter mandate to keep its MAEP promise.

Of course, other worthy state commitments exist to highways, community colleges, etc.

But a budget is a written statement of priorities. You probably pay your house note first each month, then your car insurance and your utility bill.

Better Schools, Better Jobs believes the state should first pay for the education of our children. Without well educated students, Mississippi cannot maintain a strong economy for the good jobs our citizens deserve.

The State of Mississippi apparently must be required to keep its education promise to our cities and counties, which now are bearing more of the financial burden because the promise has not been kept. Ask any mayor or supervisor, they will tell you.

Sometimes, the people have to remind their elected officials about what’s important, instead of the other way around. The passage of a constitutional amendment to ensure the state does its part for our schools is one way citizens can regain the power that rightly belongs to them and break through the political chatter of so many lobbyists at the State Capitol.

By signing a Better Schools, Better Jobs petition, you are calling for a vote on a crucial issue about this state’s and your community’s future.

Without well educated students, we cannot expect to prosper.

Without adequately funded schools, our children never reach their potential. And our communities suffer for it.

NOTE: Better Schools, Better Jobs petitions can be found at every school district central office, go to www.BetterMS.org or call (769) 524-6818 and ask for one.

Patsy R. Brumfield of Jackson is communications director for Better Schools, Better Jobs.

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