Legislators hear state’s fund requests for education

JACKSON – Legislative leaders were told Wednesday that it is important for the state to fully fund the formulas that provide operational funds for the state’s 152 school districts and 15 community colleges.
But funding those formulas will cost an estimated $126 million during a year when leaders are anticipating cuts in agencies because of a slowdown in state tax collections.
Leaders of the state’s K-12 system and community college system appeared before the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee on Wednesday to make their funding requests for the upcoming fiscal year.
Bill Jones of Petal, chair of the state Board of Education, said full funding of the Adequate Education Program, which provides the basics of operating local school districts, would cost an estimated $61.3 million extra.
That would bring the cost of the program to $2.3 billion. Jones said that state law requires the Board of Education to request the amount of money that the formula determines is needed to provide an adequate education.
MAEP has been cut the past two years because of revenue shortfalls.
Overall, the state board is asking for increases totaling $163.9 million to fund several priorities, including a pay raise for teachers.
“If you don’t have adequate teachers … the whole system will not work,” Jones said. But when asked about the board’s priority, Jones said, “We need to fully fund MAEP. That is at the top of the list.”
Community college leaders also said the Legislature should fully fund the second phase of a three-step program to move community colleges to mid-level funding between what the state provides per student at the four regional universities and at the K-12 level.
“It is the law. The mid-level law is the same legally and morally as MAEP,” said Eric Clark, executive director of the state Community and Junior College Board.
Clark and other officials told legislators that community colleges experienced a 13 percent enrollment increase this year and is the state’s “best buy” to educate and retrain people during the economic slowdown.
In total, the community colleges are requesting an additional $78.5 million.
Higher education officials present their budget request today.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal