Last week, Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary ruled against a lawsuit brought by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on behalf of 21 school districts for more than $240 million they contended they were owed by the state in underfunded Mississippi Adequate Education Program funds. Musgrove sought the funds as well as an order requiring the state to fully fund MAEP each year.
Singletary wrote, “In the case at hand, the Mississippi Legislature intended to fund MAEP to the fullest extent possible, clearly desiring annual full funding. However, the legislature intentionally included specific alternative procedures to full funding; this alternative procedure demonstrates the Legislature’s realization that full funding may not occur every year…this Court is unable to interpret the relevant statutes as imposing a mandatory annual duty on each legislator to automatically vote to apportion and allocate to each school district 100% of the funds estimated under MAEP. Instead, this Court must interpret the statutes in total as instructing the Legislature to fund the MAEP as fully as possible and providing an alternative when full funding is not had.”
A partner in Musgrove’s public affairs firm said Musgrove would appeal the decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Singletary’s ruling relies on proper statutory construction, but also respects the separation of powers in our government. It is the role of the legislature to set education policy as well as allocate funding for state priorities. If a court orders legislators how to spend Mississippi taxpayer dollars, then it has taken the power away from voters who elect those legislators and substituted its own reasoning and understanding.
Mississippi’s Constitution specifically prohibits Courts from imposing tax increases or creating new taxes.