House defeats increased educational funds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The House Republican leadership beat back efforts Saturday to provide additional funding for public education for the upcoming budget year.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, was unsuccessful in an effort to block final passage of the funding bill for education to try to get legislative leaders to work to get additional funding.
Brown’s efforts were defeated 67-48 with 63 of the chamber’s 64 Republicans voting against additional funding. Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, did not vote.
Brown pointed out that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the bulk of state funding to the local school districts, is $250 million short of full funding under the law that created it. He acknowledged that the money was not available to fully fund the program, but said a small portion of the $200 million cash reserves could be tapped.
“There needs to be some movement toward closing the gap on MAEP over a period of years,” Brown said.
House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, argued that the reserves are needed to deal with anticipated budgets shortfalls in upcoming years and should not be touched.
The fight over the MAEP came as the Legislature took up the bulk of the state budget after House and Senate leaders hammered out a compromise late Friday.
Legislators had the option Saturday to approve the compromise or to send individual agency budget bills back for additional negotiations. At this point in the process, they cannot propose amendments.
The Legislature will have to return today to take up some key budget bills where negotiations were not completed in time to be dealt with on Saturday.
Those include the budgets for the Division of Medicaid, Public Safety, Mississippi Development Authority and a few others.
Plus, the Legislature also will have to deal with a bond bill today if leaders are able to reach agreement on the amount of bonds to issue.
The budget approved Saturday provides an additional $19.3 million for the Adequate Education Program and additional funds in other selected areas, such as for classroom supplies for teachers.
But Brown pointed out that the additional $19 million will fall about $4 million to $5 million short of covering the increased retirements costs local districts must pay for teachers and other local personnel.
Brown said in essence that will be a cut for local school districts on top of other cuts they have absorbed in recent years.
Frierson said he plans to ask state Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham to take funds from the state Department of Education budget to initiate a new study of MAEP, which has been fully funded only twice since it was enacted in 2002.
He said the focus of the formula should be to help property poor districts and not to spend as much on the more wealthy districts.
Overall, the universities were level funded minus the increased cost of the public employee pension plan and the community colleges were level funded with essentially enough money to cover the increased pension costs.
Most other agencies were level funded or had small cuts. The overall state general fund budget is $4.5 billion.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com