By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has scheduled news conferences today in Jackson and Hattiesburg where he will announce plans to “take action to fully fund” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
Musgrove, who served as governor from 2000-2004 and as lieutenant governor in 1997 played a key role in steering MAEP to passage, has discussed in recent weeks plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of school districts to force full funding of the Adequate Education Program.
MAEP is the mechanism used to provide the state’s share of funding for the operation of local school districts. Under the formula, property-poor school districts receive a greater percentage of state funds for such basics as teacher and staff salaries and maintenance.
MAEP has been underfunded about $1.5 billion since 2008, including $255 million for the current school year.
Musgrove has said a law signed by former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour in 2006 mandates the annual full funding of the Adequate Education Program.
During a July interview, the former Democratic governor and current Madison County attorney said about 15 school districts had agreed to join the lawsuit. He said he expected others to join, but refused to name any of the districts at the time.
Musgrove’s effort is to try to collect for the participating school districts the amount they were underfunded since the 2006 law went into effect. But he has said the result of the effort should be to mandate full funding for all school districts in the future.
The Musgrove effort is separate from that of the Better Schools, Better Jobs group that is trying to garner enough signatures to place an education funding initiative on the 2015 general election ballot.
That initiative would require a percentage of state revenue growth to be dedicated to MAEP until it was fully funded.
The Better Schools, Better Jobs group has been critical of Musgrove’s potential lawsuit, saying it could negatively impact its initiative effort. Musgrove has said the initiative would not guarantee full funding of MAEP.
“I’m open to any action that increases funding for education in Mississippi,” Musgrove said in July. “The proposed lawsuit is the only effort to try to recover funds that the school districts are owed and need to pay expenses.”
The MAEP Legal Group includes other attorneys, but Musgrove has the highest profile in the group and is best known in education circles.