Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Interim state Superintendent Lynn House and others told legislative leaders that with an improving economy a plan needs to be developed to fully fund education.
House and state board chair Wayne Gann of Corinth told the Legislative Budget Committee on Wednesday that education is suffering because of underfunding since 2008 when the recession hit, negatively impacting state revenue for several years.
The 14-member committee is hearing from key state agency heads this week as it prepares to develop a budget recommendation for the 2014 legislative session.
In past years, state education leaders raised few objections even as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which funds the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts, was underfunded a total of $1.3 billion since 2008.
But on Wednesday, House said, “We think it is time to determine a strategy to fully fund MAEP. We think through the Legislature we can find that strategy.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who chairs the Budget Committee, pushed back, pointing out that during the funding shortfall the MAEP funding formula resulted in an increase in the portion of per-pupil expenditure going for administrative costs and a decrease in the amount going to instruction.
“That gives some of us less and less confidence in the formula,” Reeves said.
Under the formula, if fully funded for the upcoming budget year, $2,957 per student would be directed toward instruction – down $212 from fiscal year 2011, which was the last time the formula was completely recalculated. On the other hand, the portion going toward administrative costs – $934 – is up $150 since 2011.
State Department of Education officials have said that there are built-in administrative costs that each district must maintain to carry out core functions. And since more money is spent on instructional costs, the cuts show up there first – such as delaying efforts to reduce class size or to add new academic programs.
The state board is requesting an increase of $308.4 million, or 12.9 percent, for the upcoming fiscal year. Of that amount, $264.5 million is to fully fund MAEP. Of the rest, all but $15 million is to restore other programs, such as teacher supply funds, that have been diverted in recent years to help fund MAEP.
Education leaders said that because of the drop in MAEP funding it has been difficult for some poorer school districts to purchase textbooks. Even top school districts and superintendents have struggled, Gann said.
“What is frustrating to me is to see the best superintendents struggle because of lack of money,” Gann said. He conceded that “just money is not the answer. It takes money and the ability to manage.”