Initiative 42 offers positive step forward for education

Complete the circle
By George Evans
Most of my ministry at St. Richard Parish is adult formation, particularly in the area of Catholic Social Teachings and related subjects, and outreach programs, such as St. Vincent de Paul, visits to the home bound, Operation Shoestring summer program and tutoring middle school students. In each of these efforts I am struck by three main problems: poverty, family breakdowns and woeful education.
Most of what I do along with the others who work with me creates interface with all three problems daily. Poverty and family breakdown, particularly the needs of single parent families, are huge problems in need of consistent effort, dedication and prayer from individuals, churches and government at every level if we are to succeed.
These challenges are complex, difficult and demanding and beyond my ability to offer short range solutions other than to work hard in all of the help programs available through church and community. We all need to bring Gospel values with us on a daily basis into the streets where we live with Christ’s compassion to those poor and marginalized. This is what Pope Francis calls us to do and what he challenged our Congress and the United Nations to do.
Woeful public education is something we in Mississippi have generally been plagued with as long as I can remember. Approximately 90 percent of the students in Mississippi prior to college age are in public schools.  Burdened with the aftermath of segregation, agrarian poverty, lack of interest and political conflict, we have never funded education properly and the results show it. We have hovered at or near the bottom of per student expenditure and academic accomplishment in our public schools.
The concomitant economic impact is not surprising. We have hovered at or near the bottom of every economic indicator for years to the detriment of every citizen in the state. There cannot be any serious question that education and economic success, growth and development are related. We either all rise together or we sink together.
Unlike the problem areas of poverty and family breakdowns, there is a very simple concrete action concerning education available to all of us of voting age on Nov. 3. Approximately 200,000 Mississippians signed petitions to address the funding inadequacies by the Legislature of public education.
In 1997 the Legislature passed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) requiring them to fund public education according to a formula approved by the Legislature. Since that time the Legislature has followed the law it passed only two out of 18 years. This failure to fully fund MAEP was the motivating cause for the petitions requiring a constitutional amendment mandating proper funding of public education.
Significant opposition has arisen to the initiative (Proposition 42) from the Governor, Lt. Governor and many legislators. Argument is made that if passed, Prop 42 will take spending authority away from local school districts and place authority in the hands of a Hinds County judge. Supporters of  Prop 42, including former Supreme Court Justice George Carlson who has studied Prop 42 emphatically deny that position.
The procedure for legal enforcement of Prop 42, if passed, would begin by suit in Hinds Chancery Court but almost certainly be ultimately decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court because of the importance of such decision. Opponents of Prop 42 have proposed Prop 42A instead. As I understand that proposition, if passed, would basically leave everything as is. Had MAEP been funded annually, as expected, there would have been no need for Prop 42. Prop 42A is not a solution.
Many prominent supporters of education in the state, including Jim Barksdale, have helped fund the effort to pass Prop 42 on Nov. 3. Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape and COO of Federal Express and a leading philanthropist in our state, has spent millions supporting reading programs in public schools and establishing the Barksdale Honor College at the University of Mississippi.
He recently conveyed his strong support of Prop 42 because “all else has failed” and the Legislature has shown it will not follow what it previously enacted in MAEP in all but two of the 18 years since its passage.
I urge each of you to prayerfully consider your vote on November 3. We have a concrete real opportunity to embrace our Catholic Social Teachings on supporting the common good. We have a concrete simple way to help our young people prepare better for a high tech world and thereby get a better job, provide for a better family life and take a step away from or further away from poverty if that is where they now find themselves.
Its the right thing to do and I believe its what the Lord and His gospel call us to do.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)