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Group seeking signatures to fund public education

Amber Thomas watches as Keisha Keys signs a petition at the Sibley Zydeco Festival Saturday. The Better Schools, Better Jobs group is attempting to get 107,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to get the legislature to fully fund Mississippi’s school funding program. (Thomas Graning / The Natchez Democrat)
Amber Thomas watches as Keisha Keys signs a petition at the Sibley Zydeco Festival Saturday. The Better Schools, Better Jobs group is attempting to get 107,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to get the legislature to fully fund Mississippi’s school funding program. (Thomas Graning / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — A group hoping voters can decide if state legislators should fully fund their own education funding formula made a stop in Natchez this weekend.

Concerned parents and educators who want to bring awareness and change to public education in Mississippi started the Better Schools, Better Jobs group, said communications director Patsy Brumfield.

The group is seeking to collect 107,000 signatures by Oct. 1 to get a constitutional amendment on the November 2015 ballot.

The initiative aims to force the Mississippi Legislature to help build up the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) which is a law that was created in 1997 to equally distribute funds to the state’s public education system.

The program has been fully funded only twice since it was signed into law in 1997, which Brumfield said should be an eye-opening statistic.

“It’s just so clearly unexplainable that you wouldn’t want to fully provide our schools with the tools they need to educate children so they can become those skilled workers of the future,” Brumfield said. “This is the basis of our state’s economic success, but there is apparently no will in the Legislature to fund MAEP.”

The Natchez-Adams School District’s MAEP allocation for the 2014-15 school year was underfunded by approximately $1,812,625, according to the Parent’s Campaign, which was founded in 2008 to provide parents with information about legislative initiatives concerning education in Mississippi.

Since 2008, the NASD has lost a total of $10,877,914 as a result of the underfunding, according to the Parent’s Campaign.

Brumfield said more should be done to ensure a quality education is provided to all children in the state.

“We did some polling of registered voters last year and found that 70 percent of people didn’t think the Legislature would every fully fund its part of school funding,” Brumfield said.

“It became obvious that we had to do something.”

That led to the plan to change to state’s constitution requiring the Legislature to fully fund the MAEP program.

The large number of signatures required is what led members of the group to the Sibley Zydeco Festival this weekend.

“We’re hoping to get more than 200,000 just in case, so we’re looking for any large events where we know large groups of people will be,” Brumfield said. “We have groups of people going out, talking to people and seeking signatures on these petitions.”

If enough signatures are collected, the 2015 ballot initiative would read: “Should the state be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?”

If passed by voters, the initiative would amend Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the state must provide and that the Legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.

The initiative would also authorize the chancery courts of the state to enforce the section.

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