By CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Nancy Loome has a message for legislators as they begin working on the state’s budget for the fiscal year that will begin July 1: Stop the cuts.
Loome is the executive director of the Parent’s Campaign, a Jackson-based organization that lobbies for public K-12 education in Mississippi. As her organization prepares its message for the approaching legislative session, its focus is on stopping the bleeding rather than asking for the restoration of previously cut funds.
“It will really devastate our education system if we have to take more cuts of this magnitude,” Loome said.
Loome spoke to a group of more than 60 school leaders, parents and community members on Monday night at the Link Centre in Tupelo. She said that over recent years the legislature had cut funding to education by a greater percentage than it had reduced its overall budget. She said there is no fat for school districts to trim.
The result is larger class sizes, reduced support staff and educational materials and lower teacher morale, Loome said.
“I’m afraid of a mass exodus of teachers out of the classroom,” Loome said. “They will just say, ‘Forget it. If our state isn’t going to protect the integrity of education, I just can’t do it.'”
The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the funding formula for the state’s K-12 school districts, was under-funded by $243 million this year.
Because the state faces the possibility of a $400-plus million budget hole caused by the loss of federal stimulus money, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has asked state agencies to prepare for an additional 15-percent cut this year.
Loome said that would set schools back for decades. Her message on Tuesday was for community members to contact their legislators and tell them how important education funding is to them.
“I’m very worried, but I also believe firmly that we can turn this around,” she said.
The Parents Campaign has more than 60,000 people who have signed up to receive its email updates about pending legislation. On Tuesday, it distributed refrigerator magnets for every Northeast Mississippi school district with contact information of the legislators that represent that district.
Loome also encouraged citizens to contact legislators through postcards and email and to follow the Parents Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
“We are at a crossroads in this state, and we have to decide if we want to be an educated state or if we don’t,” she said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.