JACKSON—Members of the Jackson community gathered at the Arts Center of Mississippi on Wednesday to push forward discussions about fully funding public education in Mississippi.
State Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, who led the discussion, called funding public schools a “constitutional obligation.” The event, organized by Jackson 2000, a nonprofit racial reconciliation organization, focused on the Better Schools, Better Jobs ballot initiative, a non-partisan push for the state legislature to fully fund K-12 public education.
The initiative calls for a change to the state’s constitutional language, to mandate the Mississippi Legislature to “fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools,” according to the proposed ballot language. Funding would be determined through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, which is the current formula used to spread funds equally throughout districts in the state, based on factors such as average daily attendance. Although the state uses MAEP already, the Legislature has fully funded education in the state only twice since 1997. If the initiative passed on the ballot, it would change the state constitution to require full funding every year.
Over the past six years, Mississippi has underfunded its schools by more than $1 billion. Some education advocates in Mississippi say a lack of funding is to blame for the state’s under-performing education system. For years, Mississippi has posted some of the lowest scores on national standardized exams and its graduation rate has lingered below the national average. In 2013, only 21 percent of fourth-grade students scored proficient on a national reading assessment.
Dana Larkin, a board member of Jackson 2000, said the initiative would move Mississippi forward if successful.
“While we’re working to bring the races together, we also have to build up opportunities for children and people to succeed,” she said. “We have got to fully fund education.”
Jackson Free Press