- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An Oxford school patron is asking a Hinds County judge to remove from the November ballot an alternative proposed by the Legislature to a citizen-sponsored education funding initiative.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports (https://bit.ly/1DYxULP ) the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in circuit court by Adrian Shipman of Oxford, a mother of two in the Oxford School District.

Shipman argues in court documents that the language recently approved by the attorney general’s office is not a true reflection of legislative intent.

Shipman argues the legislative alternative “creates significant risks of confusing the electorate.”

A group called Better Schools, Better Jobs organized the petition drive after years of education spending falling short of what’s required by the a budget formula called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

The Legislature adopted its own version of the proposal.

Both proposals will be put to voters in November.

Lawmakers have only fully funded MAEP twice, in the election-year sessions of 2003 and 2007. They also voted for full funding in the 2008 and 2009 sessions, but midyear budget cuts during the recession kept that from happening. Since then, Mississippi has come up more than $1.5 billion short of what the formula says is necessary to meet midlevel academic standards.

Education advocates have been fiercely critical of MAEP shortfalls. Districts represented by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove sued to reverse underfunding and ask a judge to prevent it from happening again.

The ballot initiative calls for an “adequate and efficient system of public schools.” The Legislature’s alternative ballot measure calls for “effective” schools.

Under the state’s initiative law, a person is allowed to challenge the language of any legislative alternative to a citizen-sponsored initiative. And the judge has 10 days to rule on whether the language must be changed. According to James Keith, a Ridgeland attorney representing Shipman, the judge’s decision cannot be appealed.

“This legislative alternative is meant to confuse voters into killing the real school-funding initiative, Number 42,” Keith said in a news release. “Mrs. Shipman appealed its official wording because she believes voters must be able to tell the difference between the real initiative and the decoy initiative.”

Because of the super majority required to pass any citizen-sponsored initiative, many speculate that the legislative alternative would confuse people and siphon votes away, making it more difficult to pass the original school funding initiative.

“I care about my children’s education and my state’s future,” said Shipman in a news release. “If the ballot language doesn’t help voters better understand the deception behind this alternative, then the language must change so voters will know it’s a sham.”

Keith said the original citizen-sponsored Initiative 42 establishes methods to enforce “the fundamental right” of an adequate education for state children while the alternative does not provide enforcement options if the Legislature does not uphold the state’s commitment to public education.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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