Bullish on MAEP: Major candidates all support it in concept

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of funds for local school districts, is popular with candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.
As in past election years, the four major candidates for governor and two for lieutenant governor say they support the program that guarantees all school districts a certain base level of funding.
The program was enacted in the 1997 and was supposed to be fully phased in during the 2002 legislative session, but it has been the source of persistent fights and has been fully funded only twice – 2003 and 2007, both election years.
The two candidates with a concrete record on MAEP are Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport, both Republicans. Bryant is running for governor, Hewes for lieutenant governor.
In response to Daily Journal questions, both Hewes and Bryant said they support the concept of full funding. During the past eight years, they have consistently supported Gov. Haley Barbour’s position on MAEP funding, which was less than full funding and less than finally approved by the full Legislature. In general, the Democratic leadership of the House has negotiated more funds for MAEP than originally proposed by Barbour and his allies.
In response to questions from the Daily Journal about the candidates’ positions on the program, Bryant said, MAEP “will be a top priority.”
He said, “I stand by the position that I established four years ago – to support MAEP and fund it to the fullest extent that revenues will allow.”
Hewes said, “I support the concept of not only ‘adequate’ funding of Mississippi’s education system, but funding that system at the level necessary to ensure that every child in our state receives the best education to enable them to make the life and occupation choices they desire.”
Both Hewes and Bryant also cited other education needs, such as charter schools and the elimination of administrative waste.
Hewes’ Republican primary opponent, Treasurer Tate Reeves said, “I believe fully funding MAEP is an important goal. Even in these tough economic times, education funding has been and should continue to be a priority.”
The Democrats did not field a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Bryant’s main opponent in the Aug. 2 Republican primary, Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis, said, “Increased funding alone is not the solution to improving our schools, but we need a dependable level of funding for basic education services. I believe if MAEP is going to be the policy of the state, it should be fully funded.
“Sometimes budget constraints require cuts in state spending and sometimes that might include MAEP. But our goal should be full funding.”
On the Democratic side in the governor’s race, both Clarksdale attorney/businessman Bill Luckett and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said full funding of MAEP is important.
Luckett said, “I absolutely support the concept of MAEP and we must find a way to fully fund it. My top priority as governor will be to grow the economy and improve education in Mississippi, two issues that go hand in hand. … The best jobs program is a good education.”
DuPree said full funding of MAEP should be only the start. He said work must be done in other areas, such as to better train teachers and “to assist borderline students.”
He said, “We cannot end a legislative session with full funding of MAEP alone and think that we have succeeded in supporting our public schools.”

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.