- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will make a new round of arguments later this month in a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars for 21 school districts.

Musgrove is the attorney representing the districts, and the lawsuit says the state shortchanged them by $240 million, collectively, over six budget years, the most recent of which ended June 30.

Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary ruled against Musgrove and the districts in July, but has agreed to hear additional arguments Oct. 13 from Musgrove and attorneys defending the state.

Musgrove said in an interview Thursday that he will argue Singletary’s first ruling was wrong and should be reversed.

Musgrove - a Democrat who served as governor from 2000 to 2004 - said there’s “no confusion” about what legislators intended in 2006 when they enacted a law saying a school budget formula known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program should be fully funded if money is available from 2007 through 2009, and that it must be fully funded starting in fiscal 2010.

“It’s clear that the legislative intent is, ‘We’re going to provide full funding,’” Musgrove said.

As lieutenant governor in 1997, Musgrove helped push MAEP into law. The formula is designed to give school districts enough money to meet midlevel academic standards, but it has been fully funded only twice. The last time was during fiscal year 2008.

The attorney general’s office argued, in defending the state, that one group of legislators cannot put a budget obligation on future legislators.

Singletary ruled in July that Mississippi legislators are not obligated to fully fund MAEP every year. He based his ruling, in part, on a second law enacted in 2006, which said how state money would be split among school districts if funding fell short.

“This court is sympathetic to plaintiffs’ untenable position of being required to educate the students of Mississippi with less than a fully funded MAEP,” Singletary wrote. “However, this court is unable to interpret the relevant statutes as imposing a mandatory annual duty on each legislator to automatically vote to apportion and allocate to each district 100 percent of the funds estimated under MAEP.”

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, was House Education Committee chairman in 2006. He filed a sworn statement to support the districts Musgrove is representing. Brown wrote that legislators in 2006 agreed to phase in full funding of the MAEP formula in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and that after those three years “the state would fully fund the MAEP formula.”

Among the districts suing the state are Jackson Public Schools, which is the state’s second-largest district.

A separate debate over school budgets is taking place because two proposed constitutional amendments that deal with education funding will be on Mississippi’s Nov. 3 ballot.

More than 100,000 people signed petitions to put Initiative 42 up for a vote. It would require the state to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of public schools,” and would allow people to file a lawsuit in chancery court if funding falls short. Supporters of 42 have opposed Musgrove’s lawsuit.

Measure 42-A was put on the ballot by legislators who oppose the citizen-led proposal. It would require the Legislature to “provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools without judicial enforcement.”

____

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

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide