House adopts full funding of education instead of phase-in

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Mississippi House on Wednesday rejected a proposal to phase in funding of the Adequate Education Program over a four-year period. Instead, representatives voiced support of full funding during the current legislative session.

Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, offered the proposal to fully fund the Adequate Education, which is the mechanism used to provide the basics of operating the state's school system.

Franks' amendment passed 69-52 with many members of the Democratic leadership and a majority of the House Republicans voting no.

Franks' amendment was a substitute to the proposal offered by House Education Committee chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. Brown's proposal would have phased in full funding of the Adequate Education Program over four years.

He said he hoped the phase-in would end the legislative battles of the past two years. The House has backed full funding while Gov. Haley Barbour and the Senate leadership have said the state can't afford it.

“Forgive me for being practical,” Brown said, adding “there is nothing that would please me more than standing up here and saying we are going to fully fund MAEP.”

It would take $188 million more than the $1.8 billion that was appropriated last year to fully fund the Adequate Education Program. Brown and Appropriations Committee chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said the money is not available.

But Franks and others argued that the Legislature had to set priorities, and education should be the No. 1 priority.

“Is it practical for us to be 49th in education funding?” Franks asked. “Are we doing our jobs in the Legislature to make sure our children have the best education system possible?”

The Adequate Education Program was passed in 1997 and was supposed to be fully implemented by 2002. But it has been only fully funded once, in 2003.

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Franks and others asked why the Legislature should be trusted to fully phase in the funding formula this time.

Brown, normally an ally with Franks on education issues, pointed out that if Adequate Education had been fully funded each year, it would not cost the state so much to reach full funding.

For instance, if Adequate Education had been fully funded last year, it would have cost only $11 million to provide full funding during this session.

Various education groups, the Mississippi Economic Council and the state Board of Education want full funding, and no group has endorsed Brown's proposal. But their spokespeople have been careful not to criticize Brown, whom they describe as one of their strongest advocates.

As the Adequate Education Program legislation was debated Wednesday in the House, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, one of the primary architects of the program, watched the debate from the gallery.

Musgrove, like former Gov. William Winter, said he opposed the phase-in plan.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or BHarri9015@aol.com

Votes of Northeast Mississippi legislators to support full funding of Adequate Education Program instead of a four-year phase-in:

FOR: Noal Akins, R-Oxford; Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo; Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs; Ricky Cummings, D-Iuka; Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville; Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville; David Gibbs, D-West Point; Steve Holland, D-Plantersville; J.B.Markham, D-Greenwood Springs; Warner McBride, D-Courtland; Harvey Moss, D-Corinth; Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley; Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona; Jerry Turner, D-Baldwyn.

AGAINST: Jim Beckett, R-Bruce; Sid Bondurant, D-Grenada; Gary Chism, R-Columbus; Jack Gadd, D-Hickory Flat; Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi; Bill Miles, D-Fulton; Pat Montgomery, D-Pontotoc; Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman; Margaret Ellis Rogers, D-New Albany; Greg Ward, D-Ripley; Tommy Woods, R-Byhalia.