ALTERNATIVE MEASURE NO. 42A – THE BETTER ALTERNATIVE
Andy Gipson

Several days ago I penned an article outlining the reasons why I strongly oppose Initiative 42, a/k/a the “Better Schools Better Jobs” initiative. That article presented in detail why the text of Initiative 42 will do far more than simply require full funding of education. I believe Initiative 42 will erode parents’ fundamental rights, will increase the power of the “State,” will meddle with all aspects of the educational system from curriculum to consolidation to taxation, and will grant all these unprecedented powers to chancery courts.

Given the serious problems with Initiative 42, the Legislature passed and I supported an alternative proposal known as “Alternative Measure No. 42A.” Alternative 42A has the potential to enhance educational opportunity in Mississippi, without the grave constitutional concerns surrounding Initiative 42.

Section 201 of the State Constitution currently provides: “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”

Alternative Measure 42A, if approved by the voters on November 3, 2015 would change Section 201 to read as follows: “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.”

• Alternative 42A Will Maintain Parents’ Fundamental Rights. Unlike Initiative 42, Alternative 42A does not contain any “child’s fundamental right” language risking transfer of educational rights from parents to children. Alternative 42A will maintain the fundamental God-given right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of our children. Alternative 42A is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s longstanding decision that “The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right and the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Alternative 42A will preserve the rights of parents to enroll their children in their local public school or move to another school district, to select a private or religious school, or to choose to homeschool depending on what the parent believes is best for the child.

• Alternative 42A Preserves Elected Representation through the Legislature. Unlike Initiative 42 which transfers educational powers to the unelected bureacracy of the “State,” Alternative 42A makes no change to the constitutional authority of the elected Legislature to craft educational policy. Under Alternative 42A, the Legislature – the elected body of the people – would remain responsible and accountable to the people for providing an effective system of public schools.

• Alternative 42A Will Require Effective Public Schools. Unlike Initiative 42 which imposes a dangerously vague “adequate and efficient” standard for public schools, Alternative 42A is very straightforward in requiring “an effective system of free public schools.” I think most Mississippians would agree that the test for success in our public schools should not be on how much money we spend, but rather whether our public schools are achieving effective results in educating young people. By supporting Alternative 42A, the State constitution would require that our schools be effective in educating Mississippi’s children. Isn’t that what we should expect? In addition, Alternative 42A avoids the clear risks of Initiative 42 such as courts meddling with curriculum, taxation, school consolidation, etc.

• Alternative 42A Keeps the Courts Out of our Schools. Unlike Initiative 42 which places the entire state educational system under authority of chancery courts, Alternative 42A keeps the courts out of our schools. Alternative 42A maintains the current legislative oversight of education. Alternative 42A does not grant unheard-of powers to a judge in Hinds County to dictate and mandate an “adequate and efficient” school system for all areas of the State.

Honestly, I don’t believe we need to change the constitution in order to improve our educational system. As the product of Mississippi’s public schools I witnessed three very effective basic ingredients that had nothing to do with the constitution: devoted and caring teachers, supportive administrative leadership, and consistent discipline.
Making education more effective is why the better alternative is Alternative 42A. Alternative 42A preserves the balance of constitutional government, yet requires that the Legislature implement an effective system of schools for our children. I believe the good intentions of Initiative 42 proponents are outweighed by the enormous legal risks in shifting the entire educational system to the courts. Mississippians can avoid these risks by voting against changing the constitution, and by supporting the Alternative 42A.

In life we often have just one opportunity to get an issue right. But in the case of Initiative 42 and Alternative 42A, Mississippians can cast two separate votes. The text of both proposals will appear as the last items on the ballot.
The first decision is whether to change the State constitution. A vote “For Either” is a vote to change our constitution. A vote “Against Both” is a vote to preserve our current constitution.

The second decision is which proposal to support. As a protection against Initiative 42 in case the constitution is amended, each voter has the opportunity to cast their ballot “For Alternative Proposal No. 42A.” On November 3rd I hope you will join me in voting “Against Both” and “For 42A.”

Andy Gipson serves as State Representative in the Mississippi Legislature, representing the citizens of Simpson, Smith, and Rankin Counties. He is also a practicing attorney and a Baptist pastor. Andy and his wife Leslie reside on their small farm near Braxton. The Gipsons have two boys, Joseph and Benjamin, and two daughters, Abigail and Sarah. Andy may be reached at [email protected]