By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – All three of the state’s education entities would receive the same funding next fiscal year as this year under the budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by legislative leaders.
The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of funding to operate local school districts, is level funded, as are community colleges and universities.
The 14-member Legislative Budget Committee approved a $5.52 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. The proposal is $32.2 million, or 0.5 percent, less than passed during the 2012 session for the current fiscal year. It will be used as a guideline when the Legislature convenes in January.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the proposal reduces one-time money to fund recurring expenses and holds open about 2,000 vacant positions.
Gunn said the budget does not have dollars earmarked – as Gov. Phil Bryant’s budget plan does – for education proposals supported by the governor and other Republican leaders, including merit pay for teachers and funds for early childhood education.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said education funding issues could be addressed during the session. Some funding may come, he said, by redirecting funds from programs that aren’t working.
“This is a realistic budget that keeps spending limited during a down economy while targeting our priorities,” Reeves said.
The proposal leaves the MAEP formula about $300 million short of full funding and also leaves higher education more than $50 million less and community colleges about $100 million less than they requested.
Both Gunn and Reeves said they could look at those issues – particularly MAEP funding – in the session.
“This is a starting point,” Reeves said.
The Budget Committee leaves almost $380 million in reserve funds.
The proposal allocates $20 million for repair of rural bridges. In recent years, the $20 million annually promised to counties has been part of a bond package, meaning the state was incurring long-term debt.
This year budget leaders opted to provide budgeted funds instead. Last year counties did not get any money for bridge repairs because an agreement could not be reached on a bond package.
The Budget Committee proposal does not help agencies pay for the additional costs of the Public Employee Retirement System. Starting in July, the cost to each agency and school district per employee salary will increase from 12.83 percent to 15.75 percent.
That means once local school districts, for instance, pay the increased costs of their employees’ pension plan, they will have less funds for other items even if they receive level funding.