Legislators Hear School Funding Request

Yesterday, the Mississippi Department of Education presented its budget request for next year to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC). Members of the committee had a number of questions and comments for MDE.

Some JLBC members expended a lot of energy criticizing schools; none was spent on the fact that the Legislature has withheld $1.5-billion from schools in the last several years. In fact, some of the committee members repeatedly patted themselves on the back for putting more money into education, mostly through pet projects that educators didn’t ask for. Legislators complained yesterday that they don’t get enough credit for putting more money into education. There is a reason for that: they have for seven straight years funded schools far below what their own law says is required to operate adequately.

Here are two choice quotes from committee members in yesterday’s meeting:

“School districts have chosen to spend less on instruction and more on administration.”

The real story: The vast majority of the MAEP goes to pay teachers; if legislators want more money in the classroom, they need to fully fund the MAEP. MAEP funds cannot be spent on administration. Only local funds can pay administrative salaries and expenses. State budget cuts forced school districts to lay off teachers in 2010, and they haven’t been replaced because funding was never replaced. At the same time, legislators piled on mandates for districts, most of which require administrative, rather than instructional, staff to carry out. What lawmakers complain about is a direct result of chronic underfunding of the MAEP.

“We’re doing our best with what we have to slice this pie, to make sure money goes to the classroom even if it’s outside the formula (MAEP), for things we believe in.”

The real story: Withholding $1.5-billion from schools surely is not the best legislators can do. And do we send legislators to the Capitol to fund only things they “believe in” or to fund basic services that meet the real needs of all Mississippians? Too often, what legislators believe in are not things that are helpful to students and teachers.

School districts are not perfect (the same can be said for our Legislature). A lot of work remains to be done to get all Mississippi children to a successful level of achievement. But overwhelmingly, schools are doing terrific work to move Mississippi children forward – with more challenges than any other state and with woefully inadequate resources. It’s time for legislators to come through with the resources that will be required if we are ever to move Mississippi off the bottom. It’s time to stop the blame game and do something productive.

The JLBC is charged with submitting a state budget recommendation to the full Legislature no later than December 15. If you have not already contacted committee members about the critical need for adequate school funding, now is a good time to do so. Committee meetings will continue through the remainder of this week. See below for phone numbers.

Joint Legislative Budget Committee Should Lead on MAEP Funding

Mississippi has for decades lagged other states in personal income, quality of life, and economic development. The common denominator in all of those negative trends is our state’s perpetual refusal to invest in the education of our children. Last year’s Forbes business climate survey rated Mississippi a dismal 49th despite a top-20 ranking in business costs (low taxes). Our failings? A poorly educated workforce and a corresponding low quality of life. Clearly, economic prosperity – and the associated quality of life – will never, ever precede high quality education. 

Today through Friday, you can leave messages for committee members at the Capitol offices listed below. You might reach a receptionist or may need to leave a voicemail; be sure to ask that your message be delivered to the appropriate legislator. Beginning this weekend, you can reach committee members at their home or work numbers. Ask them to support full funding of the MAEP.

 Speaker Philip Gunn, Chair

Capitol: 601-359-3300, Home: 601-924-8438

 Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Vice Chair

Capitol: 601-359-3200

 Sen. Terry C. Burton

Capitol: 601-359-3234, Home: 601-683-7050

 Sen. Eugene (Buck) Clarke, Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee

Capitol: 601-359-3250, Home: 662-827-5685

 Sen. Joey Fillingane

Capitol: 601-359-3246, Home: 601-271-2070

 Sen. Dean Kirby

Capitol: 601-359-3234, Home: 601-932-1966

 Sen. Willie Simmons

Capitol: 601-359-3237, Work: 662-846-7434

 Rep. Angela Cockerham

Capitol: 601-359-3333, Home 601-783-4979

 Rep. Herb Frierson, Chair, House Appropriations Committee

Capitol: 601-359-3340, Home: 601-795-1675

 Rep. John Moore, Chair, House Education Committee

Capitol: 601-359-3330, Cell: 601-946-5833

 Rep. Jeff Smith

Capitol: 601-359-3343, Home: 662-327-0407

 Rep. Greg Snowden, House Speaker Pro Tempore

Capitol: 601-359-3304, Cell: 601-527-5350

 Rep. Preston Sullivan

Capitol: 601-359-3332, Home: 662-447-5719 

 

 

 Here are important facts that legislators should consider as they develop the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016:

  • State revenue has increased significantly for the past 4 consecutive years; the increase in state revenue in each of the last three years exceeded 5 percent, increasing by more that $250-million per year.
  • The state’s investment in education has not kept pace with the increase in revenue. Over the past four years, state revenue has increased by 12 percent while the MAEP appropriation has increased by only 6 percent.
  • Since 2011, other state agencies and programs have had their budgets increased at the expense of Mississippi school children; the state budget as a whole has grown at twice the rate of the MAEP.
  • Even with the teacher pay raise included, the MAEP appropriation for this year is $50-million below what the appropriation was for the 2007-2008 school year, though state revenue is higher than it was in 07-08.
  • Poverty is the number one indicator of students being at risk of school failure, and Mississippi has the nation’s highest rate of children in poverty. 
  • Children living in poverty require more resources than their more affluent peers to give them the same opportunity for success. Therefore, Mississippi should be spending more per student on public education than any other state. Instead, we spend less per student than almost every other state.

Students and teachers are working overtime to make Mississippi more competitive, tackling academic standards that are higher than ever. They are keeping their end of the bargain. It’s time for legislators to keep theirs.

Mississippi children deserve the same shot at a bright future that children in other states have been afforded for decades. Surely their futures are worth a call to the members of the JLBC listed above.

Thanks so much for standing in the gap for our kids!

Speaker Gunn's proposed income tax elimination jeopardizes teacher pay raises and school funding far into the future.

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