By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The rules change put in by the new Republican leadership of the state House helped block efforts on Thursday to increase funding for local school districts.
The effort to increase education funding occurred as the House voted on general fund budget bills. Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, offered an amendment to take $25 million from the budget for the Division of Medicaid and direct it toward education “to take a baby step” toward full funding for the state’s local school districts.
Brown said he would have preferred to take the $25 million from the $219 million ending cash balance that will not be spent under the House budget proposal.
But Republicans, who are in a majority in the Legislature for the first time since the 1800s, enacted a rule change earlier in the session that requires a member wanting to increase funding for one agency to take the money from another agency.
So instead of being able to tap $25 million from the $219 million ending cash balance, Brown proposed an amendment to take the money from Medicaid. He said he chose Medicaid because he knew that the leadership would take the money from the ending cash balance later in the process to ensure Medicaid is funded.
Brown pointed out education, under the House proposal, is $251 million short of full funding.
“If we are going to get the Mississippi Adequate Education fully funded, you have to take baby steps,” Brown said. “The only way to get it fully funded is to take a little bit at a time.”
House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, speaking against the amendment, said the goal was to level fund education this year, plus provide additional funds of about $25 million to pay for increased costs to the state retirement system.
In the end, the amendment was defeated 51-69. Some who voted against the amendment expressed hope that later in the process the House leadership would put some of the $219 million ending cash balance into education.
Brown lamented that the rules change prevented the rank-and-file members from having input on whether any of the ending cash balance was committed to education.
The Senate also began work on its budget proposal Thursday. The Senate budget proposal, which was unveiled by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves during a news conference, provides $9.8 million less for education than does the $2.27 billion in the House proposal.
Reeves said it is important to not only provide education reforms “to improve outcomes, but also to invest in the education system we have.”
Reeves said the Senate proposal “is a realistic budget that reflects the current economy. We’re prioritizing education funding while setting aside reserves.”