‘Big step’ in school funding sought

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – One of Mississippi’s largest public school support organizations is calling for the Legislature to take a big step this year toward fully funding the state’s schools.
The Parents Campaign is requesting that the state’s lawmakers move halfway toward completely funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, Executive Director Nancy Loome said during a Daily Journal editorial board meeting this week.
Loome outlined her organization’s legislative priorities, which also include improving teacher quality, school leaders and pre-kindergarten education and authorizing charter schools in underperforming zones.
The MAEP is a formula defined by state law that determines how much funding schools should receive. Last year, the Legislature appropriated about $300 million less than was required.
Citing that Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said during his 2011 election campaign the program would be fully funded within two to three years, Loome said the Legislature must take a step toward that goal with a $150 million increase this year.
“That is a big step,” Loome said. “If they will have any chance of getting to full funding by 2014, they will need to take a big step.”
The Parents Campaign’s proposal for improving teacher quality includes providing additional funding for the Teach for America program to allow it to bring more teachers into the state. The state should also create a merit-based pay program for teachers that measures student performance at the beginning and end of the school year to determine growth, she said.
The Parents Campaign supports a charter school law, but it wants to see those schools only allowed within the zones of schools that have been underperforming for two or three years.
It would like to see Mississippi pass a law that would require all of the state’s superintendents to be appointed. Currently, most county school districts in Mississippi elect their superintendents.
The problem with this, Loome said, is that only residents of that district are eligible, limiting the available pool of potential school leaders.
“Some school districts are tiny and rural and don’t have anyone who wants to run,” she said. “You should be able to go anywhere and find the best leaders.”
Parents Campaign also calls for the state to provide $5 million to Mississippi Building Blocks, a private partnership that seeks to improve the state’s pre-K by lending support and trained personnel to existing centers.
The money would allow MBB to reach 2,500 children, primarily in low-income areas, Loome said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com