EDITORIAL: No strings

All Mississippi school districts may not have been pleased with the test scores made public Friday, but the day brought some unqualified good news for every district in the state.
Mississippi will be able to draw down $98 million in additional federal funding for K-12 education without putting up any additional money. That will ease slightly some of the financial pressures on local school districts, most of which have either cut teaching positions or not filled vacancies.
The money comes from legislation Congress passed earlier this month that will also free another $82 million for public schools through a continuation of a 2009 change in the Medicaid matching formula. Other state entities will benefit to a lesser extent from that provision, including higher education, which will get about $15 million extra.
All told, Mississippi will receive about $250 million from the legislation.
For K-12 education, the $98 million on top of the anticipated $82 million from the Medicaid provision comes at a time when state funding is $230 million below the level defined by state law as adequate for public schools. The congressional intent was to save teaching jobs – an estimated 2,000 in Mississippi.
Even if the windfall is saved for next year, as Gov. Haley Barbour urged last week, it can help offset the increased class sizes and reduced course offerings that have faced schools as state revenues, and thus funding, have declined.
It was Barbour who announced late Thursday that the state would be able to get the $98 million without taking away money from other state department budgets. The governor, in his initial response, had blasted the bill as “terrible legislation” and said its formula would cost the state up to $75 million extra to get the $98 million.
That turned out not to be the case, as Barbour acknowledged in his later announcement in which he said he would apply for the funds. The announcement included Barbour’s statement that he would have voted against the bill anyway if he had been in Congress, as did virtually all Republicans, largely on the basis of its effects on the deficit. Democrats noted that it was paid for through the elimination of an expanded food stamp benefit and an end to a tax break for U.S. companies that create jobs abroad.
That the bill passed largely along party lines shouldn’t stand in the way of the state taking advantage of the assistance offered. At least the governor – however grudgingly – recognized that.
Mississippi’s schools can use the money to shore up basic educational services, and nothing is more basic than the teachers who can be hired as a result.

NEMS Daily Journal