- Associated Press - Monday, September 15, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Five more Mississippi school districts are joining a lawsuit against the state over shortfalls in education funding.

With the additions announced Monday, there are now 19 plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Musgrove spokesman George Shelton said the new plaintiffs are school districts in Greene County, Humphreys County, Leland, North Bolivar and West Bolivar. Shelton on Monday originally announced the Forest municipal school district as a new plaintiff, but a short time later said that was a “miscommunication.”

The lawsuit seeks money to make up for budget shortfalls since 2010 because the Legislature has not fulfilled obligations of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. MAEP is a complex formula designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards.

The lawsuit seeks back-payment for the districts that are plaintiffs, but it also seeks a change that could affect all school districts in the future: It asks a chancery judge to declare that the law’s use of the word “shall” means legislators have an unbreakable obligation to fully fund MAEP.

Musgrove, who pushed MAEP into law as lieutenant governor in 1997, said last week in Jackson that lawmakers have failed to fulfill the mandates of state law.

“Teachers are getting stretched,” Musgrove said at a forum sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

“Courses are getting cut,” he said. “Textbooks are getting more out-of-date. Buildings are crumbling. Buses are going without repairs. Teachers are not being renewed. Many schools have reduced the number of teacher assistants that they have. “

Musgrove filed the lawsuit Aug. 28, and additional districts also have until late September to join as plaintiffs. After that, they would need a judge’s permission to join.

The state has until late September to respond to the lawsuit. Some lawmakers have said they would have to cut other state services to fully fund MAEP.

Musgrove was elected governor in 1999 and was unseated in 2003 by Republican Haley Barbour. MAEP was phased in over several years, but has been fully funded only twice since 1997, both times during statewide election years. In 2006, Barbour signed the change to the law to add that MAEP “shall” be funded, rather than “may.” That change is the basis for the lawsuit filed by Musgrove.

The other 14 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are school districts in Clarksdale, Clay County, Greenville, Hattiesburg, Leake County, Okolona, Prentiss County, Richton, Simpson County, Smith County, Tate County, Wayne County, West Tallahatchie and Wilkinson County.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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