Bishop Joseph Kopacz joined with Methodist Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., to support the passage of Initiative 42 on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot. The bishops released a letter detailing why they would like to see an amendment added to the state constitution that would enforce the Mississippi Adequate Education Act.
There has been some controversy about how the ballot is set up. Voters must essentially approve the initiative two times. First, for approval of Initiative Measure No. 42 or Alternative Measure No. 42A, which was passed by the Legislature and then, further down the ballot vote again for Initiative Measure No. 42.
Here is the text of the bishops’ letter:
Dear Friends in Christ,
“Any long-term solution to poverty in this country must pay serious attention to education, public and private, in school and out of school. Lack of adequate education, especially in inner city setting, prevents many poor people from escaping poverty.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote these words in a document called Economic Justice for All, but they are especially apt to a discussion of education in Mississippi.
The bishops go on to say, “Since poverty is fundamentally a problem of powerlessness and marginalization, the importance of education as a means of overcoming it cannot be overemphasized.” We affirm this notion and wish to put our full support behind Initiative 42, the ballot initiative meant to ensure full funding for education in the Magnolia State.
We find equal support from the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.
“We believe that every person has the right to education. We also believe that the responsibility for education of the young rests with the family, faith communities, and the government. In society, this function can best be fulfilled through public policies that ensure access for all persons to free public elementary and secondary schools and to post-secondary schools of their choice.”
Education is the path out of poverty. It empowers individuals and communities, helps people get better jobs and helps equal the playing field for everyone. We cannot have strong schools unless we provide the resources the schools need to properly educate students, pay for good teachers, supplies and training. Initiative 42 is a way to do that.
We know that racial inequalities manifest themselves in the education system in Mississippi. Approximately three-quarters of majority white school districts are rated A or B while in majority African American Districts less than 10 percent of the schools are rated A or B. Advocates attempted to equal the playing field by passing the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), but lawmakers have consistently refused to follow the law they themselves passed.
The MAEP has only been fully funded twice since its inception. Over time, the cumulative effects of underfunding the formula have had disproportionate effects on schools in low-income communities, which are typically minority communities experiencing population loss that have limited means to make up the difference through local property taxes.
Initiative 42 simply asks lawmakers to follow the law already in place. We know the MAEP formula was designed to address inequities in education funding, ensuring that children in the most impoverished and vulnerable communities have the same access to education as every other Mississippi child.
We would like to urge the faithful in our communities to support Initiative 42 on Nov. 3, and encourage you research the ballot itself, which could be misleading. Voters must approve the amendment to the constitution and then vote in favor of the initiative. This is an opportunity to move Mississippi forward as a united community.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Miss.
Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.
The United Methodist Church