If you’re anything like most Mississippians, you think the condition of our schools is a shame, but you’re not sure what should be done about it. Oh, you want teachers and students to have what they need to meet the goals set for them. The idea of changing something like our state constitution, though, worries you, and it’s all so complicated you’d rather just look for Plan B.
I get that. It totally makes sense. And you might expect me, the public schoolteacher, to puff up my chest here and tell you Initiative 42 is the perfect solution for everything wrong with our education system. But I’m not.
I’m not going to tell you Initiative 42 is perfect, because I don’t believe it is.
What I’m going to tell you is, Initiative 42 is worth your vote anyway, because it gets you want you really want, it’s a once in a lifetime chance for all of us, and it’s part of a long American tradition of progress.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
The language of 42 has been a stumbling block for some. Though many of its words are almost identical to other state constitutions, people balk at phrases like “injunctive relief.” The term is unusual for lay people like us who are expected to make a judgment call, so it’s understandable some of us feel hesitant about approving it. Would I have worded it differently had I been involved? Maybe. Would you? Perhaps. If we got five of us voters in a room, we probably wouldn’t even agree on what to eat for lunch. What we must look for is what promise the initiative holds for actual change.
Some critics want you to believe all meaningful changes might as well have been handed down from God on stone tablets. When they first roll out, they’re universally agreed upon and they’re able to work seamlessly into government as if they were always there.
Truth is, progress in America is very human. It always has been, and it always will be. It’s built upon steady, incremental steps into the unknown. We figure out what the thing is our children and grandchildren need, and we take the steps necessary to secure it for them.
In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, we Mississippians were worried school integration might throw the state into disorder and chaos. But we overcame the fear. We secured integrated schools.
In the 80’s and 90’s, we were scared kindergarten and adequate funding might bankrupt us. But we overcame the fear. We secured higher standards of education.
And now we’re worried a constitutional requirement to fund the schools might bring about lawsuits. We can overcome the fear again. We can take a bold step and secure full funding.
“I don’t know how else we’re going to do it.” – Jim Barksdale
It’s hard for somebody outside the education field to imagine what 42 means to the long road of progress in Mississippi education. It’s a blip on the radar for the average voter, but we educators have been working toward November 3rd for over 20 years.
Perhaps for us, it’s something like what State and Ole Miss fans have felt these last two years, as each team has sat near the top of the football polls. Like the Mississippi football dominance, everyone agrees this is Education’s year. We’re in the spotlight. But when you’re up there, you don’t just feel the possibility of promise fulfilled. You feel the long road that got you there- you see the lean years in the rear view mirror. It’s the rarity of the air, and the knowledge that the opportunity won’t last forever.
This week Jim Barksdale, famous entrepreneur and donor of millions to Mississippi education, met with the Clarion Ledger‘s editorial board. He’s been at this for decades. He didn’t orchestrate Initiative 42, but once he heard about it, he “supported it because he believes it’s the best option following years of underfunded education.” Mississippi, it’s not just educators and parents saying 42 is the best shot we’ve got. Jim Barksdale is saying it.
So, say you think Initiative 42 is not perfect. Ok. Even though it’s workable in that it secures funding for our children and grandchildren- let’s say you don’t like the wording, and you’re “unsure if it’s the right answer.” Ok. Well if 42 is not the answer, what is? Are we to just take the one chance we’ve had in 20 years, and flush it down the drain because it wasn’t unanimous?
When you get a shot, you take it. Nobody chanting “Hotty Toddy” this weekend is looking for the Rebels to get some other player at such-and-such position and then maybe next year they could be better. No, this is the team. This is the chance. And in the ballot box this November, these are the bubbles we have to fill in order to secure funding for our kids.
Even the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were argued over, and criticized. And improved upon later. But the Founding Fathers pulled together and adopted them when they had to, because they knew doing so secured a better future.
“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” – Robin Sharma
Meaningful change rarely comes without uncertainty.
That’s the nature of creating a new world together- it’s going to be unlike the one we’re in now. And that can be scary.
A lot of the fear is unwarranted. The chancery courts will not have power to take money from schools, as opponents claim. Sam Hall, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, has himself called such claims a “load of horse crap.” And 42 does not have to break the state’s budget. There will undoubtedly be an “Act II” after November, but in hindsight, it will be mere bumps on the road of progress.
What tends to last, though, is that which we’re fighting for– what we get from the change. Everything else we can wade through together. If the Legislature continues to illegally underfund public education, yes: 42 carries the risk of lawsuits. And nobody wants that. But 42 also secures for our children a path to full, adequate education. A path the Legislature has denied us for almost 20 years.
Should forces continue to oppose us, yes, there will be discomfort. Jackson will be dysfunctional for a while, just like it is now. The difference between now and then is, we’ll have a dysfunctional Jackson that also is providing fully funded schools.
And that is indeed a better future.
James Comans is an 8th grade science teacher in Southaven who is a contributor to MSEdBlog. His views are his own and do not represent the views of any other entity.