EDITORIAL: Critical vote ahead

By NEMS Daily Journal

Proposed funding for Mississippi’s public schools in the 2012 budget year enters a critical phase with the approach of a Senate Appropriations Committee vote, probably Tuesday, that could create a $300 million shortfall compared to what’s required under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, and $65 million below the House’s bill.
The House, to its credit, kept the promise it and the Senate made through the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, to keep funding level with 2011 in 2012.
The House passed the K-12 funding, HB 1494, with funding about $25.5 million above the Legislative Budget Committee recommendation, largely to fund a $16.3-million increase in the cost of state retirement. The House version provides level funding for the MAEP, teacher supply funds, and the National Board Certification Program.
Gov. Barbour and his Senate supporters believe they can cut $65 million on the mistaken assumption that the money, already paid to school districts under a special federal appropriation, is in the 2012 budget to be cut.
You can’t count the same money twice. The $65 million in funds Barbour says should be counted was already counted as a substitute for state dollars withheld from schools in FY11 – this current school year, 2010-2011.
There’s no federal funding for the state appropriation for school districts.
If the $65 million is cut from the House bill, as is expected to happen in the Senate with a “strike all” amendment, local school districts would be heavily impacted.
• For the current year, the Lee County School District’s MAEP allocation is underfunded by $3,556,560. If the state education budget is cut by another $65 million, the Lee County School District will lose an additional $949,789.
• For the current year, the Tupelo School District’s MAEP allocation is underfunded by $3,432,228. If the education budget is cut by another $65 million, the Tupelo School District will lose an additional $916,586.
That total, almost $9 million for both districts, is huge, and proportionate cuts will be felt in every other Northeast Mississippi district.
If it’s made up, it will fall on local taxpayers because lawmakers and the governor will have abdicated the state’s responsibility and commitment to 500,000 public school students.
“Level funding” means that the same number of state dollars will be appropriated for the next fiscal year (FY12) as were appropriated for the current fiscal year (FY11).
Level funding for 2012, of course is no bonus for schools. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is underfunded this year by $230 million, and if that shortfall is maintained, the same problems in paying for necessities, not frills, will continue.
We recognize the financial difficulty with which Mississippi wrestles. Level funding is arguably necessary. A further reduction based on bad bookkeeping would compound the schools’ problems, and it would violate the intent of the bipartisan Legislative Budget Committee.
We hope parents, students, teachers and other public school supporters express their strong support for level funding to their senators. The Senate and House membership’s addresses by school district can be found at msparentscampaign.org by clicking on the MS Legislature icon at the top of the home page.
Time is short on this issue, and a timely call or e-mail could be crucially persuasive.