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Attorney General’s Opinion: Educators, Staff Can Support Initiative 42

Public school teachers and staff can publicly support a state education-funding amendment without running into legal problems, if they do it on their own time, a Mississippi attorney general’s opinion states.

The July 31 opinion states “that school employees may voluntarily participate in political activities as long as their participation in such activities is limited to the hours when they are not involved in their work-related duties.”

Sondra Odom, a supporter of Initiative 42 and longtime president of the Pearl School Board, requested the opinion after she said numerous public school employees expressed interest in promoting the constitutional amendment but had questions about how they could do so legally.

Initiative 42, a citizen-sponsored measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, proposes to require the Legislature to fully fund its share of a K-12 school finance law it passed in 1997 but has abided by only twice. Since 2008, the state’s 150 school districts have been short-changed nearly $1.7 billion, which has put pressure on city and county governments to try and bridge the gaps.

In a video, Ridgeland attorney Jim Keith, who represents numerous Mississippi school districts and is an education law specialist, advised administrators, teachers and other public school employees about their ability to support Initiative 42.

“They absolutely can support Initiative 42 as long as they are on their own time,” Keith says in the video. He also noted the opinion allows them to use school resources to reproduce materials to “educate” the public about Initiative 42 and other issues of public interest.

Initiative 42 was placed on the Nov. 3 ballot after nearly 200,000 Mississippians signed petitions to do so in 2014. For more information about it, go to the campaign’s website at here.

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