Chaney's goal: Level education funding after Katrina

By ROBBIE WARD

Daily Journal Starkville Bureau

STARKVILLE – State Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, said Thursday that his goal is to fund K-12 education, community colleges and universities at least at their current levels next budget year, despite the expected costs to rebuild the post-Katrina Gulf Coast.

“I anticipate education maintaining some level funding,” said Chaney, speaking in Mississippi State University's Mitchell Memorial Library.

Chaney, a Tupelo native who chairs the Senate's Education Committee, said Hurricane Katrina's rebuilding costs will affect the state budget for years. However, he said no area of education in the state can sustain another year of cuts.

Another year of cutting budgets at the state's eight public universities would set them back 20 years, he said.

He said that at this point in the budget process, he is uncertain of what will happen, but he knows the importance of adequately funding education.

“I can't say it'll be realistic or not realistic,” he said. “But that's the goal.”

Public school districts on the Coast were crippled after the hurricane whirled through the state Aug. 29. School damages are estimated at $668.4 million. More than 250 schools were damaged, including 16 that were destroyed.

Many state officials anticipate substantial federal assistance to subsidize rebuilding areas affected by Katrina. Chaney said he was unsure how the state will cope with enormous costs without federal help.

No consolidation

State leaders will continue to seek ways to save tax dollars in public education. However, one option – consolidating school districts – is no longer a consideration for Chaney.

He said his research last year showed that consolidations statewide would not result in substantial savings.

“Consolidation is a valid concern, but it's not an issue with me anymore,” he said. “It's great talk radio, but it's not going to save you any money.”

For years, people in Oktibbeha County have courted the idea of consolidating county schools, which underperform and are strapped for funding, with the Starkville school district, which has a solid academic reputation and diverse extracurricular choices.

Chaney said that action would involve pumping millions of dollars into the school system to pull it to necessary standards.

Contact Robbie Ward at 323-9831 or robbie.ward@djournal.com