Photo via Kayleigh Skinner/The Hechinger Report
As part of the 50th Anniversary Freedom Summer conference, organizers in Mississippi are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would put the right to education and fair school funding in the state's constitution.
From The Hechinger Report:
"The purpose of Better Schools, Better Jobs is to pass an amendment to the state’s constitution that would require the state Legislature to fully fund K-12 public school education with no cost to taxpayers. The group needs 107,000 signatures from registered voters by the end of the summer, but hopes to gather more than 200,000 signatures, according to external operations director Jennifer Johnson. The group will submit all of the signatures on Oct. 1 so the initiative might be on the 2015 ballot.
The initiative calls for funding through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. This law uses a formula to spread funds equally throughout the state. The group contends one reason Mississippi’s students lag behind the rest of the country is the schools don’t have adequate resources."
Of course, just having a constitutional mandate on education and school funding doesn't necessarily mean that schools will suddenly be fully funded. All but five states have faced lawsuits for their failure to provide adequate school funding. But, crucially, those 45 states all have language in their state constitutions around the provision of public education. Mississippi has never faced a lawsuit, in large part because there is no right to education or fair school funding embodied in its constitution.
If organizers succeed in getting their ballot initiative passed, it opens up a powerful, court-led option for securing funds the state legislature may not be willing to provide. But all that is a long way off – the first step is getting the initiative on the ballot.