Last summer, a Mississippi advocacy group, 42 For Better Schools succeeded in getting enough signatures to place on the November ballot an initiative that will ask voters “[s]hould the state be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of public schools?” and should state courts be given the power to enforce this mandate? An unusual article in the Mississippi Constitution (Art. XV, Sec. 273) allowed the legislature under these circumstances to then place an alternative initiative (known as “Alternative Measure 42A”) on the same ballot. Responding to a complaint filed by a mother who felt the initiative was confusing and misleading to voters, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston L. Kidd last week denied the state’s motion to dismiss her complaint and also directed the legislature to change the title of its ballot initiative so that voters would clearly understand how the two initiatives differed.
The legislatively proposed ballot initiative would have asked voters, “Should the Legislature provide for the establishment of free public schools without judicial enforcement?” In addition to denying the courts the authority to enforce the constitutional measure, Alternative Measure 42A removes substantive language in the advocates’ version that would require the state to support “adequate and efficient” – and not just merely free – schools.
Judge Kidd selected an alternative ballot initiative title suggested by the plaintiff, which will now ask voters “Should the Legislature establish and support effective public schools, but not provide a mechanism to enforce that right?” Judge Kidd’s decision is final under Mississippi state law and cannot be appealed.