In September, The Mississippi Department of Education presented to the Legislative Budget Committee K-12 education’s budget request for the 2013-2014 school year.
Fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) for FY2014 (the next fiscal year) would require an increase in funding of $300-million. The MAEP is underfunded this year by almost $260-million.
Several members of the House and Senate leadership teams questioned whether it was reasonable to continue to use the MAEP as the funding standard, citing the fact that the formula has been fully funded only twice. One went so far as suggesting that the MAEP be scrapped.
Mississippi has historically funded our public schools at a per student level that is well below that of most states, and our student achievement has also lagged that of other states. The MAEP was passed in 1997 in an attempt to ensure equitable funding for school districts and to make Mississippi schools competitive with those in other states.
The legislature is tasked with finding a way to fund the services that will make us a more prosperous state – chief among them a high quality public education system. It isn’t easy, and a difficult economy has made it harder. But that isn’t any reason to lower the standard by which they are measured or to allow them to back up on their commitment to our children.
Teachers’ jobs are hard, too, and their jobs, too, have been made harder by tough economic times. But legislators continue to hold educators to high standards – as they should. Likewise, legislators should be held accountable for meeting a high standard on their end – and a big part of their obligation is finding a way to provide resources that are adequate to educate our children well.
Resources, when spent wisely, make a difference. Perhaps the best example of this is the profound impact made in the last two years in schools that have participated in the Barksdale Reading Institute’s (BRI) Principal Project. BRI invested heavily in these schools, funding superb leadership, effective diagnostic assessments, and intensive interventions for struggling students to the tune of $3.3-million (in addition to the schools’ state and local funding). In just two years, the average increase in QDI in the four schools was 30 points. Likewise, MDE reported last week similar achievement gains in districts under conservatorship, Schools-at-Risk, and those utilizing School Improvement Grants – all schools where additional resources were focused on improving achievement.
Our job, as parents and communities that know the value of strong public schools, is to help legislators understand what our schools need to be successful: great leaders and teachers, high standards, strong accountability- and adequate resources. Click here to find the legislators who represent your school district, and begin the conversation today!
Leadership has never been more important – in our schools, in our communities, and in our Legislature. None of us can afford to seek the easy way out. It’s time to roll up our sleeves (or hitch up our britches, as Governor Barbour was fond of saying) and figure out a way to provide our schools the resources they need to be successful. I can promise you this: Mississippi will never, ever meet her potential until we provide our children – all of our children – with a first class public education.