By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
The fight over how much to fund public education is nothing new this time of year in the Mississippi Legislature.
As a matter of fact, to borrow a phrase, it is deja vu all over again.
Almost every year during Haley Barbour’s terms as governor, there has been a fight between him and the Democratic House leadership over how much to spend on public education.
In 2007, an election year, Barbour yielded and finally agreed to full funding of education after it became apparent that a vast majority of legislators supported that position and he ran the risk of having a veto overridden for the first time in his tenure.
Then, the following year, 2008, Barbour also consented to full funding, but when state revenue started declining, he opted to cut education at a much higher rate than other agencies to make up for the shortfall.
In recent years, as the Legislature has worked to restore some of the cuts Barbour has made to education because of declining state revenue, the governor has been an obstacle to that effort.
In his first term, Barbour and others expressed concerns that the Adequate Education formula that dictates funding for local school districts was too generous. A study committee looked at the issue and came to the conclusion the formula should be tweaked in a way that would provide even more state funds to the local school districts.
Just by looking at the public record – primarily the governor’s own budget proposals – he has consistently been in favor of lesser funding amounts for public education. That is the record.
The governor has said he was advocating a lesser funding amount to be fiscally responsible. Perhaps that was the right position.
But the fact is that Mississippi has remained at the bottom or near the bottom in terms of per capita income and other similar indexes. We lag behind the rest of the nation in terms of education attainment.
We also are at the bottom in spending on education and we are far behind other Southern states in spending on early childhood education.
Maybe that is all just a coincidence that we are the least educated and poorest state and spend the least on education. But perhaps there is something to that adage that you get what you pay for.
At any rate, as Barbour’s tenure as governor winds down, it is no doubt he will be remembered as a significant figure in Mississippi politics and in the state’s history. Perhaps his stance on education funding is right.
Time will tell.
But the truth is the governor has seldom if ever gotten what he wanted in terms of education spending. Legislative Democrats have consistently argued for more funding that the governor.
The Democrats also have not gotten the amount they wanted. But education has received more than the governor proposed.
That has been the case practically every year.
In other words, there has been a compromise somewhere between the governor’s position and the legislative Democrats in terms of education funding. Sometimes it has been closer to the governor’s position. Other times it could be argued the legislative Democrats prevailed.
It is interesting to think what would have happened to education funding if Democrats did not control the House. Based on the fact that legislative Republicans have followed the governor’s lead on most issues, it is reasonable to assume that his lesser funding amounts for public education would have prevailed.
It also is interesting to think what will happen after the governor’s term expires this year. Will education spending continue to be a Republican vs. Democratic issue or will there be more of a consensus on education funding?
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.