EDITORIAL: Lean enough

When the new school year begins in August, Mississippi school districts will have all gotten leaner. They’ll have fewer teachers and fewer employees in general. They will have cut corners in many other ways to reduce expenses.
It’s all out of necessity, brought on by the most extensive revenue downslide in modern state history.
The state budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1, leaves K-12 education $232 million short of full funding under the formula in state law.
The coming year’s education budget may be further slashed if federal stimulus funds to reduce the state’s Medicaid match, thus freeing up money for schools, don’t arrive as earlier anticipated. For Northeast Mississippi school districts alone, that could mean $5 million less for 2010-2011.
The state’s $2.32 billion expenditure in FY 2010 for schools is $220 million less than was spent three years before.
So schools have been squeezed. So far, it’s been largely under the parental and community radar. While teachers, administrators and school personnel have felt the pinch themselves, the schools have managed to keep the educational impact minimal.
That could change dramatically in the fall of 2011.
Federal stimulus funds have made what would have been an horrific budget situation at least tolerable, but they’re scheduled to run out after this school year. Unless there’s another major stimulus package passed in Congress – and the political will for it is questionable – schools would face cuts in 2011-2012 that will be wrenching.
Many more teacher positions will be cut, and not just through attrition. Class sizes will increase significantly. Course offerings will be reduced.
In other words, we’ll be getting down to the quality of education for students.
It goes without saying that these are hardly the times to cut back on the breadth and depth of academic offerings and the effectiveness of classroom instruction in Mississippi schools as the state tries desperately to raise standards and performance. That other states are in the same boat isn’t much of a consolation since Mississippi has so much ground to cover in catching up.
The economy is beginning to show signs of turning around, but Mississippi historically has been slow in catching up to national trends, especially in tax collections following a recession. Many more hits without some revenue relief could do long-range damage to Mississippi schools that would take years to repair.
If and when that time comes, state leaders can’t simply stand around and let it happen. They’ll need to find ways, even politically unpopular ones, to keep education from reeling.

NEMS Daily Journal