As noted last month, the decisions legislators make on corporate tax breaks have a direct impact on the level of funding our children’s schools receive. Special legislative favors, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks granted to corporations over the last few years, are shrinking state revenue.
Legislators now propose to solve their self-created revenue shortage by cutting essential state services. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) announced that it is recommending cuts for almost every state agency in Fiscal Year 2017.
While MAEP funding is recommended to remain the same as the current year (well below what the state requires), cuts are recommended for other K-12 support, including a $5.4-million reduction in the General Education line item. “General Education” funding covers costs such as professional development for teachers, teacher supply funds, content specialists to help low-performing schools, National Board Certification supplements, the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, the expenses of the Mississippi Department of Education, etc. It isn’t clear from the recommendation which of these programs are slated for cuts.
The committee also recommended a $1.4-million cut to the Schools for the Blind and the Deaf, a 12.5 percent reduction. Remember that this Legislature has created a $3-million voucher program to pay private school tuition for parents of children with special needs who agree to remove their children from public schools, all the while slashing funding for children with special needs who do attend public schools. See the Fiscal Year 2017 budget recommendation from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee here.
More bad news is that the draconian “63 percent attendance rule” continues to cost school districts critical funding, as schools have their funding reduced for any student who misses more than 37 percent of the instructional day. Many believe decreasing school funding was the real intent of the “63 percent” legislation when it was passed in 2013. If so, the Legislature is getting its way. Because of a decreased attendance number, the amount of funding required to fully fund the MAEP is lower for next year than it is in the current year. Because the “full funding” amount is lower, even if the actual MAEP appropriation remains exactly the same, the under-funding amount will move from $201-million to $172-million. Legislators will likely claim to be doing better in regard to school funding when, in fact, schools are no better off.
You might remember that both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in the last legislative session to remove the unreasonable attendance provision and, instead, provide schools funding for every child enrolled. However, in a procedural move, that bill was killed by the Senate leadership on the last day of the session.
As Mississippi continues to lose revenue due to corporate tax breaks, there is no sign of the corresponding economic growth that state leaders promised would happen if businesses are released from their tax burdens and given the freedom to “invest in Mississippi” and create jobs. Meanwhile, corporations, relieved of paying the taxes and fees they owe the state for the services they use, reap higher profits for their out-of-state headquarters and shareholders, and Mississippians are left holding the bill.
What happens next? Clearly, this “corporate giveaway” strategy of state leaders isn’t working, yet they say more corporate tax cuts are at the top of their agenda for the 2016 Legislative Session.
Remind your legislators that more tax cuts mean less school funding. And when that happens, children – not corporations – pay the price.