State Senator David Parker on Ballot 42:
I have been asked to share my thoughts regarding the Ballot Initiative 42.
As a background, let me share the following. I have served in the MS legislature for the past three years. I have made significantly less income by serving and have spent countless days away from my family. Why? Because as the father of four children in DeSoto county, I got tired of hearing one thing and then finding out another later. I wanted to be sure that any decision I made came from countless research and not from the propaganda of the media or Washington.
When elected, I immediately started to push for a teacher pay raise. I was told in a board meeting that “teacher raises only occur in election years and that I have a lot to learn”. Nonetheless, I pushed for a raise that went directly to the teachers and it was passed in a non-election year. Last year, after numerous snow days, I was told by the Superintendent of Education through a memo to the schools that snow days could not be forgiven for children or teachers. I pushed the issue and such days were forgiven for children and local rules have been changed to allow forgiveness for teachers in the future.
I am now being told by the Dept of Education that the passage of initiative 42 will help children and teachers in DeSoto county. In the past two months I have spoken to legislators (both Republican and Democrat) from over 30 states. I have spoken to attorneys who specialize in constitutional law and I have personally re-read and studied the MAEP funding formula and its relationship to the ballot initiative.
After my research and study, I have the following fear for DeSoto County. DeSoto County this year received roughly $240 million in funding for K-12 education. Of this amount, about $160 million came from state funding and the other $80 million came from property taxes that we each pay to further subsidize education in our county. We are fortunate to have a strong county with an unemployment rate of only 4.3% which is the second lowest in MS and well below the national average. Other parts of the state are not so fortunate.
If I-42 passes, I predict a lawsuit from a parent in a high unemployment county with a low tax base. I believe the suit will basically imply that it is not fair that a successful county like DeSoto is able to supplement the state portion of funding with a high amount of local taxes. This extra funding could be deemed as putting our county in an unfair position of advantage over other counties. Such a suit would meet the litmus test for adjudication as specified in the constitutional change of I-42 and would be heard and settled. My opinion is that it could be determined that it is not fair for DeSoto county to supplement education when other jurisdictions cannot afford to do so. Such a decision could result in a scenario where to make things fair, a portion of the state contribution could be re-directed to another part of the state. In other words, we would keep our $80 million locally but could see the $160 million reduced by some percentage. For example, let’s say a reduction of 25% is deemed fair in court. Such a decision could result in the $160 million being reduced by 25% to $120 million instead. As a result in this example, our county might have to work on $120 million plus $80 million (total of $200 million instead of $240 milion) because this is deemed ‘fair’ in a court of law.
If this happened, a local tax increase in the form of a millage increase is limited by other law. So even if we decided by referendum to increase taxes to try to make up the difference, we might not be able to reach the level we have now. In other words, more revenue would be going in to the system but would not be coming to our county.
I have mentioned this scenario to leaders of education in MS and asked for a guarantee that such could not happen. I have heard instead that “anything is possible”. If we do change our constitution and the above happens it will be the ‘law of the land’. There will be nothing that you or your elected officials can do to change it short of another ballot initiative to counter it back. Such would require 200,000 signatures, years, and millions of dollars.
When seeing patients, I often speak in terms of risk versus reward. We wait on surgery until the risk of the surgery is outweighed by the reward from the surgery even with complication. As of the last reporting, millions of dollars have been poured in from Washington, DC to push for passage of this initiative. I wonder if such a move is truly to benefit teachers and the classroom or someone else? The risk seems very high to me and the reward very low.
With passage or not, I will continue to advocate for our teachers. I will continue to give teachers the right to teach instead of the right to test. I will continue to thoroughly research topics and inform teachers what I learn. I will be voting against this initiative but should it pass, I pray that my research and the scenario outlined above does not prove to be true!