The Mississippi state legislature is not constitutionally required to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (“MAEP,” despite the specific language in MS Code §37-151-6 that states “Effective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program),” the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled unanimously last month.
Former Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, acting as lead counsel to 21 Mississippi school districts, had filed the case claiming that the legislature had a constitutional responsibility to fund public education, that it had adopted MAEP as its mechanism for doing so, but had failed in recent years to provide the funding at the levels that had been calculated under the program. Plaintiffs sought $235 million in funds they claimed they were denied during the past year as well as an injunction to prevent the legislature from underfunding MAEP in the future. In July 2015, Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary had held the statute did not impose a mandatory annual duty on the legislature to appropriate 100% of the funds estimated under MAEP because the statute includes provisions for alternative ways the state should handle education funding during years when money falls short.
The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed his judgment, holding that the legislature has significant discretion under the relevant constitutional provision, which states “[t]he Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.” Miss. Const. art. 8, § 201. The court also added the interesting additional holding that “[B]ecause the Governor is not obligated to sign any bill fully funding MAEP, the Districts have not shown any injury, as they cannot show that, even had the Legislature passed a bill fully funding MAEP, that bill would have become law.”