Earlier this week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) released its budget recommendation for the coming fiscal year, FY2022. The recommendation is $197-million, or 3%, less than the budget for the current year. It provides the same funding for the MAEP that was provided this year ($250-million below full funding). You will remember that the current year budget levied cuts on most state agencies of about 5% and a cut to the MAEP of 1.6%. No teacher pay raise is included in the FY2022 recommendation, and the Department of Education budget, which includes literacy, professional development, and pre-k funding, is cut by 20%.
Also this week, despite the JLBC proposing cuts to almost every state agency for the second year in a row, Speaker Gunn revealed in an interview that he supports eliminating a third of the General Fund, or about $1.9-billion in state revenue annually, by phasing out the state income tax. The Speaker alleges that no one noticed the hit when the 2016 tax cuts shrank the state budget by an estimated $415-million.
I, for one, can tell you that thousands of Mississippi teachers have noticed that they remain the worst paid in the nation, that their class sizes are too large, and that, because of chronic underfunding, they consistently resort to buying classroom supplies from their own pockets.
Many thousands of parents have noticed that our state was ill-prepared when the pandemic hit, sending children home to learn with no access to the internet and no devices to connect them to their teachers, depending once again on the federal government for a bail-out to solve the problem.
Kindergarten teachers have noticed that too many children arrive in their classes unprepared, lacking access to the high quality pre-k they need to be successful.
The JLBC budget recommendation is only a starting point for budget discussions. It is not a final budget proposal. And the recommendation does leave money on the table, which legislators could use to adequately fund our children’s schools, including a well-deserved pay raise for Mississippi teachers – something Lt. Gov. Hosemann says he supports.
2020 has created challenges for students and teachers that will take many months, if not years, to overcome. They deserve a serious investment of state resources to ensure that they can meet those challenges and move forward into a bright future. We are counting on our legislators to be forward-thinking in their approach to the coming budget year and in planning for future budgets by ensuring state revenues sufficient to meet the needs of our children and their teachers.
Our job is to ensure that legislators understand that our priority is our children. And we aren’t willing to sacrifice their futures. Not even for a tax cut.
Nancy Loome, Executive Director