Public school funding petition drive brings educators to Biloxi

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A group that wants to force state lawmakers to fully fund education brought its campaign to South Mississippi on Tuesday. Supporters of the Better Schools, Better Jobs initiative spoke at the Mississippi Municipal League Conference in Biloxi. They appealed for support, hoping to put the issue of school funding before voters.

Supporters of the initiative brought their petition drive to the Mississippi Municipal League Conference at the Coast Convention Center. Their initiative would change the state constitution, requiring lawmakers to fully fund public schools through MAEP. They're trying to get enough signatures to put the issue on the November 2015 ballot.

"Unless the people are given the opportunity to speak on the importance of funding education, the legislature is not going to stand up and do it," said Rep. Cecil Brown of Hinds County.

The Mississippi Association of Educators also hosted a session, urging elected officials, city employees and local lawmakers to support the cause. The MAE said since 2009, schools across the state have been under-funded by $1.5 billion. The organization also pointed out that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program has only been fully funded twice since it was passed into law in 1997.

"It will make our civic leaders aware of the devastation that they have in their own cities and communities when there is a shortfall in public education funds. Sometimes, they feel like there's really nothing they can do," said MAE President Joyce Helmick. "If we have our civic leaders supporting our schools and saying, 'if we fund our schools and our public schools are good, then we'll have more businesses come in,' our communities will be stable, people will want to come here and stay."

Several speakers told the crowd there are funds available to chip away at the shortfall.

"In fact, our revenues are growing at five percent every year right now," said Brown.

They believe new revenues coming into the state should be put back into schools. That's why they are pushing to get at least 110,000 signatures from registered voters across the state.

"I've seen tremendous support. I'm happy, very happy," said Kathy McWilliams, a teacher from Rankin County.

"We have been traveling across the state, talking to educators, talking to civic leaders, parents. We have so many people who support our public schools, and they want something done about this. So we are extremely optimistic that this will happen," said Helmick.

The deadline for the petition drive is October 1.

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