Rally seeks support for Miss. schools' funding

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Education activists rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol, urging Mississippi lawmakers to fully fund public schools to help improve academic performance and the state’s future.

“You cannot sit around and allow other priorities to take center stage above public education funding. If we do fully fund public education, it takes care of a lot of those other priorities,” said Leroy Johnson, executive director of Southern Echo, a community organizing group for rural, black communities.

Money is tight for the state fiscal year that begins July 1. Top lawmakers are recommending about the same funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program as this year.

The program is a complex funding formula designed to ensure that each school district receives enough money to meet midlevel state academic standards. It’s based on several factors, including enrollment and the percentage of low-income students in local districts.

Tunica County school board member Marilyn Young said Wednesday that the formula was shortchanged by millions this year and will be again next year, even if lawmakers put the same amount of money into it.

“We really want them to fully fund MAEP,” said Young, who has an 8-year-old in public schools and two children in college.

More than 100 students, parents and community activists participated in the rally sponsored by Southern Echo and the Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable.

Activists also spoke against school consolidation, an issue that’s getting little debate this year.

In late 2009, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour proposed reducing Mississippi’s 152 school districts by one-third as a way to save money. However, his proposal died during the 2010 legislative session. Lawmakers have shown no inclination to discuss the politically volatile subject this year, when most members of the House and Senate are running for re-election.