Bryan to push for more ed funding

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, unhappy with the budget proposal worked out by legislative leaders in general – and particularly displeased with the amount of funding for education – said he will attempt today to force additional funds be provided to the local school districts.
When the Senate takes up the bill funding education, he said he will move to reject it and force additional money be provided to the local school districts. The Legislature is back in session after a 31/2 week recess to pass a budget and are trying to do so this week and end the 2010 session.
The Legislature is expected to take up today the bills that fund the $5.5 billion general fund, including education.
Most doubt Bryan’s ability to slow the process by requiring more money be directed to education, at least in part because it could keep the Legislature in session longer. But he said Tuesday there are methods of placing additional funds in education without harming other budgets and without delaying the process.
On Tuesday, the Legislature passed the bills that fund what are known as special fund agencies – those that operate on specific taxes or fees. The biggest of those is the Department of Transportation, which is more than a $1 billion budget and is funded through a tax on motor fuel.
Specific numbers on the budget deal worked out between House and Senate leaders were difficult to obtain Tuesday.
But late Tuesday, House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said that if additional federal funds are provided to the state as expected, education will get $8 million more than it now receives. That figure is based on the budget after Gov. Haley Barbour’s cuts to K-12 education totaling more than $200 million.
Congress is expected to provide the state an additional $187 million in federal stimulus funds.
Without those funds, Brown said K-12 education will receive $72 million less than it is getting now. State Superintendent Tom Burnham said school districts will provide contracts for the next fiscal year based on the lower funding level and will make additional hires when they get the federal money.
Congress is expected to approve the additional money sometime this summer.
“The bottom line is we think we have done the best we can do” for education, Brown said Tuesday to a group of education advocates.
He said education funding, like funding for all agencies, was limited because of the historic drop in state tax collections and because Barbour and the Senate leadership are adamant in limiting the amount of state reserves funds that are spent in the budget.
Bryan said that as part of the budget deal reached by the legislative leadership and the governor, only $110 million of the anticipated additional $187 million in federal stimulus funds is spent in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
He said it would be easy to agree to spend most – if not all – of those funds in education without disrupting the rest of the budget agreement reached late last week by the legislative leadership.
“For instance, if we just spent $26 million of those funds, that would be a half million per Senate district. That would allow 10 additional teachers per Senate district to be hired,” he said.
Bryan said his problems with the agreement are bigger than just education, but he indicated Tuesday he would fight only to send the education back for negotiations.
“This budget is guaranteeing furloughs and terrifying state employees to the point they are afraid to go out and buy a hamburger,” he said. “The economy and other people depend on money being in circulation. It is a terrible downward trend when we have hundreds of millions in the bank.”
Barbour and the Senate leadership in particular have advocated saving a substantial portion of those reserves for next year, when another tough budget is expected.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.