The potentially devastating impacts of Mississippi’s Initiative 42

BY GRANT CALLEN  on The Hechinger Report

In November, Mississippi voters choose between two ballot initiatives to decide whether to change their constitution. The first, created by nonprofit 42 for Better Schools, requires the Legislature uphold a 1997 law on adequate school funding. The alternative initiative mandates funding an “effective system of free public school” and does not force the Legislature to fund schools beyond what it sees fit.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed an emergency declaration for the state’s Tunica County School District, allowing the Mississippi Board of Education to take over the district, abolish the existing school board and superintendent, and implement corrective actions. The failures in this Delta school district extend beyond academics, would repulse any parent, and are heartbreaking for the children involved. In one of the poorest regions of the nation, the Tunica County School District spends $11,471 per student per year. That is almost $2,500 more per student than the Mississippi average and almost $4,500 more than neighboring DeSoto County, one of the highest performing districts in the state.

This story is all too common in Mississippi. The worst performing public school districts in the state are given considerably more money than the best performing districts, and yet, this extra cash has not pulled these schools off the bottom. Far from it, unfortunately. Here, public school districts rated “F,”which Tunica was until moving up to a “D” this year, spend on average about $2,000 more per student than those districts rated “A.”

As a nation, we are spending more money on public education than ever before. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the total amount spent on the K-through-12 education of a student has increased 189 percent since 1970, and that’s after adjusting for inflation. In Mississippi, spending has increased 160 percent over the same period of time. Yet, with all this new education spending, our state’s abysmal ACT and SAT scores have remained virtually unchanged since 1970.

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