By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant’s budget proposal represents essentially a status quo for kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
The budget released last week provides a 5.5 percent increase for the eight public universities, a 6.9 percent increase for community colleges and sizable increases for Corrections, Public Safety and Medicaid.
The increase for K-12 education is 1 percent, or $22.4 million, and $16 million of that amount is directed to a new capital expense fund that local school districts could access for building repairs.
House Democratic Caucus Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said it is projected that the state will have an additional $245 million in tax revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, yet “the governor and Republicans in the Legislature have refused to fund education at a basic level for years now.
“In the past, the excuse has been that we simply do not have the money. Now, when their own estimate shows that we do have the money, they still will not agree to fund education at a basic level.”
Bryant said his proposal is balanced while focusing on “Mississippi’s highest priorities – investing in our children by continuing to improve education outcomes, protecting public safety, continuing our economic development efforts and ensuring the basic functions of state government.”
The first-term Republican governor said his budget “level funds” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of most of the basics to local school districts, but in reality, his plan would result in a modest $750,000 boost in the program.
Still, MAEP, which has not been fully funded according to the formula in state law since the 2007-08 school year, would be an estimated $284 million short of full funding under the governor’s proposal. If Bryant’s proposal is adopted by the 2014 Legislature, MAEP would have been underfunded about $1.5 billion since 2008.
The budget proposal presented to legislative leaders earlier this year by the state Board of Education fully funds MAEP at $2.347 billion. State law requires the Board of Education to present the full estimated costs of MAEP to the Legislature in the form of a budget request.
In addition, the Board asks for increased spending of an additional $44 million primarily in areas that have been cut in recent sessions to deal with an unprecedented drop in state revenue during the recession.
For instance, the board is asking for $20 million to restore funds taken from the Public School Building Fund and $16 million to restore diverted teacher supply funds.
The board also is asking for increases for key programs passed by the 2013 Legislature. Those programs, such as one that requires most students to read on grade level before advancing past third grade, were called “transformative” by Bryant.
“Perhaps one of the most fundamentally important reforms enacted in the 2013 … session was the third grade reading gate literacy measure,” Bryant said in his budget narrative. “We know that reading adequately by third grade is imperative to a child’s ability to succeed, and we know that for too long, too many Mississippi children have not achieved that benchmark.”
The state board is asking for an extra $5.5 million for the program to hire additional reading instructors and for an additional $3 million for a pre-kindergarten pilot program that has the state board working with local communities on developing voluntary programs for 4-year-olds.
Bryant provides the same level of funds for those programs as passed by the 2013 Legislature.
Other increases in the state board budget include $500,000 for a superintendent’s academy to provide training, $2.5 million for statewide assessments and $650,000 for dropout prevention.
Other increases proposed by Bryant include $1.5 million to pay the cost of students taking the ACT, $750,000 for the DuBard School for Language Disorders in Hattiesburg and $1.1 million to expand a dual enrollment program to allow high-schoolers to take higher education classes.