HED:House panel to consider “adequate” education bill today

CATEGORY: Legislature

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:House panel to consider “adequate” education bill today

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Efforts to ensure that every child in the state has access to an “adequate” education will be considered today by the House Education Committee.

“Quite frankly, I think it (Adequate Education Program) is going to pass (the entire Legislature) in some form,” Rep. Billy McCoy told members of the House Monday afternoon during session. McCoy is chairman of the House Education Committee and a key member in the budget process.

The House Education Committee will probably place some of the $363 million in phase-in money the bill will cost during a five-year period into a teacher pay raise. That might make the bill more acceptable to some legislators who question the wisdom of spending more on education programs until the state’s teachers receive a pay raise that will place them at the Southeastern average.

The Adequate Education Program, which Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove called “landmark” legislation, already has passed the Senate.

The basic premise of the legislation is that children should not be penalized because they live in a district with limited property to tax while other students live in property-rich districts and thus are able to attend a better school system.

“For the first time in 45 years, we’re actually funding every child in public education at a successful level,” Musgrove said earlier of the bill.

The bill changes the method by which public education is funded in Mississippi. In essence the change is from a method where state funds are distributed to local districts on a per-teacher basis to a system where each district receives so much state money per child. How much the district receives depends on the amount of taxable property in the school system. Property-rich districts would receive less than poor districts. Each district would receive additional money under the program, which will cost at least $127 million annually when fully funded in the year 2003.

The extra money could allow poor districts to offer more classes – such as in the fields of foreign language, advanced math and sciences.

While McCoy predicted the bill will pass this year, the version that the House Education Committee is expected to approve today will have some significant changes from the Senate bill.

Both proposals will phase in the program during a five-year period. The Senate proposal has those phase-in funds – about $363 million – allocated to be spent on local school district building needs, technology improvements and some academic curriculum. The House Education Committee will consider allowing some of these funds to be used for teacher pay raises.

The House Education Committee probably will recommend that less money be spent on students at-risk of failure. The Senate version calls for an additional 12 percent be added to the per-pupil expenditure of each student in the free lunch program. The House Education Committee will consider dropping that to a 2 percent per-child-in risk-of-failure expenditure. Students in poverty are generally considered to be at a greater risk of failure.

If the bill passes the House Education Committee, it must go to the Appropriations Committee before it can be considered by the full House.