- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - House Republicans pushed through a proposal for alternate wording for a state constitutional referendum on school funding Tuesday, as supporters of the original language howled that the effort aimed to sabotage the November vote.

House members voted 64-57 to approve an amendment that would require that the Legislature provide an “effective system of free public schools.” All but two Republicans voted for it, while all Democrats who were present voted against it.

House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said he helped draft the language to focus on results, not just money.

“Education funding is not an end unto itself. It’s simply a tool, it’s simply a means to an end - a very important means - but it’s a means to an end,” Snowden said. “The ultimate question is what are our results? What are we achieving? How effective are our schools?”

If senators agree to the resolution, both original language and the Legislature’s version would appear on November’s ballot. Voters can choose one or the other, or reject both.

Mississippi’s initiative system has always allowed for lawmakers to propose alternative language, but they never have before in the handful of referendums.

Having an alternative will make it harder for either to pass. That’s because any proposal must win a majority of total votes cast on an issue and at least 40 percent of total votes in the election. With voters in favor of a change dividing between two possible alternatives, it makes it less likely that either will reach the 40 percent threshold.

“Why can’t we let the people vote it up or down and be done with it instead of playing games?” said Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville. He, like others, warned voters would be confused.

Snowden’s language differs from the one calling for “an adequate and efficient system” of schools. Placed on the ballot after 117,000 registered voters signed petitions seeking the referendum, it’s designed to force lawmakers to stop appropriating less than the amount called for by the state’s school funding formula. That language sets up grounds for a lawsuit if lawmakers don’t increase school aid. Over the past seven years, Mississippi has fallen $1.5 billion short of the amount mandated by its formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

A group of 21 school districts represented by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is already suing. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said Snowden’s plan is defective because it doesn’t mention a funding obligation and leaves discretion in lawmakers’ hands.

“The reason the amendment is here is the Legislature has not done their job through the years and folks are about tired of it,” Moak said.

Republicans, though, said trying to push decisions into the hands of a judge was wrong.

“The people have one voice, and that’s through the hands of the Legislature,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said after the debate.

Patsy Brumfield, a spokesman for Better Jobs Better Schools, which pushed through the original language, said a number of House members who had pledged support to her group switched their votes between Friday and Tuesday.

“We’ll continue to fight on a legislative basis but I think that we are now in a campaign mode because it’s going to take a lot of time to explain to voters how to sort through a very messy ballot,” Brumfield said.

___

Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide