By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
Legislation that would provide an estimated $180 million for cash-strapped Mississippi school districts cleared a key hurdle Wednesday in the U.S. Senate and now appears likely to be signed into law this month.
“It is critical we get this additional aid for the state,” state Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said. “Truth of the matter, it will keep people employed and avoid layoffs that place a tremendous strain on everything else. It keeps people employed instead of drawing unemployment.”
“But No. 1,” he added, “it helps continue critical government services.”
School districts across the state are eliminating teacher positions because of an unprecedented drop in Mississippi tax collections.
The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of most of the basics of operating local school districts, was underfunded for the upcoming school year $232 million by the Legislature.
The legislation making its way through the U.S. Senate would provide local districts funds to make up part of that shortfall.
The bill would be paid for by making several changes in federal law, including the elimination of an expanded food stamp benefit and the prevention of some U.S.-based companies from getting tax breaks here because of foreign taxes paid.
The U.S. House, which is currently on recess, is expected to return to Washington next week to take up the legislation. It is expected to have a much easier time passing the House.
In the 100-member Senate, supporters of the legislation had to clear a 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.
The vote was 61-38, with two Maine Republicans voting with the Democratic majority to advance the legislation.
The Senate is expected to give its final approval to the bill today.
Mississippi’s two senators, Republicans Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, both voted against advancing the legislation.
The legislation would continue the enhanced Medicaid match the states received as part of the stimulus package passed in 2009 by Congress and signed into law by the president. The match would be in place from January until July.
In Mississippi, the enhanced federal match will free up funds that will be diverted to the local school districts.
Earlier this year, Gov. Haley Barbour joined a large majority of governors, both Republican and Democrats, writing Congress urging the extension of the enhanced Medicaid match.
Another portion of the legislation would provide Mississippi nearly $98 million to prevent the elimination of an estimated 1,660 teacher positions.
State House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said he believes the $98 million will flow to the state Department of Education, which will divert the funds to the local school districts on a formula basis.
Wicker said he understands the importance of the legislation to the states, but said, “this bill also places an unnecessary burden on taxpayers. It increases taxes permanently to finance this temporary spending and adds $22 billion to next year’s deficit. Instead, the federal government should tighten its belt, like millions of American families are doing.”
The Congressional Budget Office contends the legislation would ultimately reduce the federal deficit.
Cochran did not realease a statement before press time on Wednesday.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (662) 351-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.