By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday didn’t embrace Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to require local school districts to dip into their operating reserve funds to provide level education funding for the upcoming year.
The Republican Reeves, speaking to the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/Capitol press corps luncheon, stopped short of saying he opposed Bryant’s proposal that school districts use $73 million of their operating reserves in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to reach level funding.
Reeves said some school districts have been able to manage their funds during the current economic downturn and “I am not convinced we should punish those districts that have been good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars” while others have not been. “My goal is to find a way to level fund” education, though he refused to make a commitment.
With state revenue collections continuing to come in above projections, Reeves said the revenue estimate may be increased before the session ends in May, giving education more money, but it’s too early to count on those funds. And that revenue growth will be offset by the loss of federal stimulus funds.
“I think we need to all be aware … that no matter what the revenue does, the next fiscal year budget will be the most difficult the Legislature has had to deal with,” Reeves said. He said his goal is to achieve full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in the next three or four years, “but it will take time.”
MAEP provides the state’s share of the cost of operating local school districts. If the 2012 Legislature provides education level funding for the upcoming year, it would still be about $250 million less than full funding under the MAEP formula.
Bryant, like his predecessor, Haley Barbour, has tabbed local school districts’ operating funds, or reserves, to make up for the loss of state funds. Local school districts have countered the operating funds are not a true reserve and vary during the year because districts receive their revenue in lump sums.