- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Voters in November 2015 will decide a referendum to write a funding guarantee for “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools” into Mississippi’s constitution.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Friday that of 121,691 signatures supporters submitted in October, 116,570 are of valid, registered voters. That’s 9,000 more than the 107,216 required statewide

What’s called initiative 42 aims to prevent lawmakers from underfunding public schools, after a seven-year period in which Mississippi has fallen $1.53 billion short of the amount mandated by its school funding formula.

“It was hard work, but everybody knew that requiring the Legislature follow its own law to fully fund K-12 education is crucial to our state’s economic future,” said Patsy Brumfield, a spokeswoman for Better Schools Better Jobs, a group that coordinated signature-gathering.

To gain adoption, the initiative must win a majority of total votes cast for the issue and at least 40 percent of total votes cast in the election.

Lawmakers can propose an alternative version. If they do so, both the original language and the Legislature’s language would appear. Voters can choose one or the other, or reject both.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, have expressed opposition, saying that the amendment could wrongly transfer spending power from the Legislature to judges, because people could sue to enforce the referendum.

Referendum supporters say their approach is a better way to solve school underfunding than a lawsuit spearheaded by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. That suit aims to recover past underfunding and prevent future shortfalls, while the referendum only aims at the future.

The fight over alternative language could be one of the defining issues of the 2015 Legislature. Better Schools Better Jobs, which has raised $1.35 million and spent $1.17 million so far this year to support the plan, is already trying to push lawmakers away from alternatives. Sunday, the group took out a full-page ad in The Sun Herald newspaper urging voters to contact their lawmakers and urge them to vote against a “phony alternative.”

“We’re focused on fighting off a political dirty trick possible when the Legislature convenes in January,” Brumfield said Friday. “We believe education opponents will try to pass an alternative aimed at killing Initiative 42 in November.”

Though supporters collected nearly 200,000 signatures, many were tossed out. Supporters had to collect 21,444 certified signatures from each of five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000. Supporters exceeded that threshold by a few more than 800 signatures in former 4th Congressional District, which included parts of Jackson and southwest Mississippi and by about 1,000 in the former 5th Congressional District, which included areas from Hattiesburg to the Gulf Coast.

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Online: https://www.sos.ms.gov/elections/initiatives/InitiativeInfo.aspx?IId=42

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