Myth vs. Reality

Myths Plaguing Public Education and Why They Are Not True

Myth #1: Over 60% of the state budget is spent on public education.
Reality: This argument relies on the assumption that the General Fund (just under $5-billion) provides all available state revenue. The fact is, the General Fund makes up less than one-third of the state budget. Many state agencies are funded through diversions, revenue from state taxes and fees that avoids the typical legislative appropriations process. Additionally, the 60% figure includes community college and IHL spending. The entire state budget, including federal Katrina relief funds, totals over $17.4-billion. In the most recent legislative session, K-12 education was appropriated about 18.4% of the budget.
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Myth #2: Schools are hiding millions of dollars in reserve funds.
Reality: School districts are like any other business. They have to be fiscally responsible, which includes having money in reserve to prepare for large expenditures and unforeseen circumstances. When buildings, facilities or equipment have to be repaired or replaced, schools must have the funds necessary. And just like with any other business or home, you don’t always know when these repairs will be necessary. So you have to be prepared.

By setting aside 5 to 10% of their budget annually, schools prepare for any time funding falls short of budget needs or major expenditures. Reserve funds also help districts to manage their cash flow. While the budget year ends June 30, schools do not receive funds from local ad valorem taxes until the following January. Although the June 30 balance may show a healthy amount in reserve, much of that money will be used as operating capital until the funds from local sources are dispersed 6 months later. For every dollar districts expend from reservoir operation funds on renovation and repairs, that’s one dollar less plus interest that is not needed through local bond issues.
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Myth #3: Most people prefer to send their children to private schools.
Reality: The vast majority of Mississippi’s school age children, approximately 500,000 children, attend Mississippi’s public schools, compared to 46,606 in private schools and 11,063 children who are home schooled. (2003-04 Data)
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Myth #4: Our schools do not perform well.
Reality: Our schools perform extremely well. 76 percent of all schools in the state met Adequate Yearly Progress requirements in all three areas in the 2003-04 school year. Under No Child Left Behind, schools are required to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements in reading/language arts, mathematics and other academic indicators for all demographic subsets of their students.

In addition, based on several objective factors, including the annual Mississippi Curriculum Test, Mississippi assigns each school a school performance classification between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest. Of the 838 schools assigned, 90 percent or 754 schools were rated as Level 3—Successful; Level 4—Exemplary; or Level 5–Superior-Performing. A remarkable 28 percent (233 schools) were found to be Superior-Performing, the highest category a school can be assigned.

Mississippi has the highest percentage of high school graduates going to college among the 16 states represented on the Southern Regional Education Board, which covers Delaware to Texas. Mississippi has 62.5 % of its graduates attending college, while nationally the average is only 57.6 % and the SREB average is only 55.3 %. (Source: SREB Fact Book on Higher Education, June 2003)

Mississippi has excellent teachers, including over 1,500 teachers who are nationally certified by the rigorous National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. We rank #6 in the nation for the number of nationally certified teachers. Over 11,000 teachers have an advanced degree above the bachelor’s degree required for certification.
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Myth #5: Schools spend too much money on facilities.
Reality: One of the most important tasks a school must perform is providing facilities that are safe and promote learning. Building and maintaining the physical plant can also be one of the most expensive parts of educating children. Numerous studies have reinforced that small class size has a direct impact on student achievement, so providing adequate classroom space is worth the cost spent on renovations, re-roofing projects and new construction projects.
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Myth #6: Schools spend too much money on administrative personnel, such as superintendents and principals, that could be used on teachers.
Reality: Mississippi’s superintendents and principals make far below the Southeast average and the national average. In the 2003-04 School Year, our superintendents’ salaries averaged $88,164; the Southeast average was $123,440; the national average was $125,609. Our principals’ salaries averaged $62,404; the Southeast average was $79,180; the national average was $86,160.*
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Myth #7: School districts are bloated bureaucracies that spend too much money on administrative costs.
Reality: A very small percentage of the average Mississippi school district’s budget is spent on administrative costs. The vast majority of the budget is devoted to instructional costs, meaning teaching and learning at the classroom level.

In 2003-04, administration made up only 4.5 % of district budgets in Mississippi, while 73.6 % was channeled to the classroom. This is on par with national averages: administration, 5 %; instruction, 76 %. And, keep in mind that with Mississippi’s rural nature, a high percentage of funds are expended on transportation of children.
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Myth #8: Everything except teachers’ salaries should be considered administrative costs.
Reality: Instructional costs cover a variety of programs, services and activities that affect the teaching and learning process, not just teachers’ salaries. And schools don’t arbitrarily decide how to categorize expenses; they must adhere to the Classification of Expenditures based on the Financial Accounting Manual for Mississippi Schools, issued by the State Auditor’s Office of Mississippi. Board of Education, Superintendent’s Office and Business Services are included in administration. As instructional leaders of the school, principals’ salaries are included with instruction.
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Myth #9: The Department of Education has requested an unreasonable increase in education funding due to growth in the MAEP formula that is out of control.
Reality: The growth in the MAEP formula is not out of control. Subtracting the teacher pay raise and the increased insurance and retirement costs over the last five years, yields a total 5-year increase of only 5.3 percent. That is an increase of less than 1.5 percent per year!

In 2003-04, teachers’ salaries in Mississippi averaged $36,217, compared to a Southeast average of $40,484* and a national average of $45,646.* The salary increases were definitely needed to attract and keep quality teachers in our classrooms. Health insurance is a benefit school personnel and their families depend upon. While these are both important and necessary expenses, the funds allocated by the state to education were not enough to cover the increase in these costs. Increased costs to the school districts for teacher salary increases and health insurance totaled over $122-million. While the funding level for FY05 was increased by $77-million, school districts were funded $45-million below the level required by state mandate. (*Source: Education Week, June 23, 2004)

In addition, the Legislature diverted $16-million from classroom supplies that were earmarked in the 1-cent sales tax into the basic education budget. In each of the past six years, the Legislature also diverted $20-million, for a total of $120-million, set aside for Public School Building Funds to the basic education budget. One-time funding for recurring costs has been used over the past several years to fund education. This year’s budget contains $147-million of one-time sources for recurring costs.
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Myth #10: We must stop throwing money at education.
Reality: Mississippi is 48th in the nation in per pupil spending on public education. Virtually every other state spends more per student than does ours. Though money alone will not solve all the problems facing Mississippi schools, it certainly is necessary. School districts must use resources efficiently, but sufficient resources must be made available to them if they are to provide our children an adequate education. “Throwing money at education” is a strategy that has never been tried in Mississippi.
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Myth #11: Were schools to get full funding, they couldn’t effectively spend it.
Reality: Schools have cut many programs and personnel over the last three years due to underfunding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Were schools to be fully funded, they would likely, first and foremost, replace the programs and personnel they have lost. Additionally, superintendents say they would like to hire more teachers to reduce class size, a proven means of increasing student achievement.

Schools desperately need updated technology – for Tech Prep programs and in regular classrooms. Reading specialists are needed in early grades to assist students who have difficulty learning to read. Adequate funding would enable districts to add Advanced Placement courses, foreign languages and other elective courses. Transportation is another concern. Many districts have buses so outdated that they are dangerous, but funds have been scarce and districts have been forced to delay the purchase of new buses. The truth is, needs in Mississippi schools far exceed what even full funding of the MAEP will provide.
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Myth #12: There are relatively few Mississippi children who are truly at risk of failure.
Reality: The majority of Mississippi school children, over 60%, are considered at risk of failure due to poverty.
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Myth #13: Only children who meet the federal definition of “economically disadvantaged” may participate in at-risk programs.
Reality: Though the number of children participating in the federal free lunch program determines the amount of at-risk funding a district receives, any child who is struggling academically is eligible to participate in at-risk programs.
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Myths & Realities 2-9 courtesy of The Mississippi Department of EducationMyth vs. Reality

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