EDITORIAL: On the level, Disputed money might cause education spending to drop

By NEMS Daily Journal

Only two full weeks into the 2011 legislative session supporters of public education funding have raised warning flags about Gov. Barbour’s proposed education budget for 2012, and their concerns appear valid.
Barbour said earlier he could agree to “level” funding of education in the 2012 budget, that is, keeping spending at the 2011 level for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the essential and foundational funding mechanism for every school.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee also agreed to level funding, but the figures don’t match, and there’s concern that what Barbour proposes actually is $65 million less than “level” – so closer scrutiny is necessary.
Barbour includes as state spending in his level budget $65 million that’s not state funding – it is from a special appropriation made in late summer of 2010 by Congress for school districts nationwide, including those in Mississippi. The money is designated to pay for teachers’ salaries to offset loss of other funds from other sources.
The JLBC doesn’t agree with Barbour about the applicability of the $65 million as state funding and declined to count it in its budget proposal.
In summary:
• Barbour’s proposed budget for MAEP is $2.048 billion, including the disputed $65 million.
• The JLBC’s MAEP budget is $2.021 billion, which appears to be less, but does not contain the disputed $65 million.
• The full K-12 education budget from Barbour would be $2.266 billion, and from JLBC would be $2.261 billion, but Barbour’s figure would be lower if the $65 million isn’t counted.
In the overall budget the $65 million seems small, but it is an inarguably large sum, and its availability must be certain.
The more conservative and effective approach would seem to be using funds that are indisputably the state’s in achieving level funding.
The issue is one for the Legislature and the governor to settle. It is important to remember that the Legislature does not act like a unified political organism. Every member has a vote and a voice, and public school supporters should urge their legislators in both chambers to vote for the full, level funding.
Public education serves 90 percent of Mississippi’s K-12-age students – a half-million young people. The issue of funding should be non-partisan because everybody depends on the outcomes and quality made possible by adequately funding every school.
Barbour acknowledges the importance of high-quality education for economic development and progress, but it’s not achievable on the cheap.
Education Week, the nationwide journal, recently released its Quality Counts “report card” on the nation’s public schools. The good news, Nancy Loome of the Parents’ Campaign reports, is that “our Standards and Accountability once again received outstanding grades with an overall Standards, Assessment and Accountability grade of B+, ranking us just above the national average and in the top half of all states. Our standards are high and our accountability system is strong.”
Mississippi’s Quality Counts grade is a C, not great but not failing.
“The bad news is that Mississippi scores an F in Spending on Education. Student Achievement also scores an F. Do you see a connection here?” Loome asks.
The three-legged stool used to describe education has as its foundational standards, accountability and resources.
“When we get our spending on education in line with our standards and accountability system, Mississippi children will, at long last, have the tools they need to soar,” Loome commented.
We agree.
Ask your legislators individually to support at least level funding in the 2012 budget cycle.