By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Mississippi Senate voted overwhelming Thursday to reject its leadership’s proposed cuts to the state’s 15 community colleges.
Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, offered an amendment to increase funding for the state’s community college by about $15 million to $226.3 million, which is the amount the Legislature appropriated for the two-year schools in 2010, including $9.8 million in stimulus funds.
Gordon said the community colleges, which have seen enrollment increase 54 percent during the past 10 years while state support has decreased 26 percent, could not sustain additional cuts.
“Our community colleges are out there hurting,” Gordon said. “They are out there on a limb and the limb is about to be cut out from under them.”
The additional funding came as Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, worked to pass out of the Senate a portion of the budget bills that will fund state government starting on July 1.
He presented a bill that would have funded the schools at about $15 million less than what they’re receiving in the current budget year.
Davis argued against the Gordon amendment, saying money wasn’t available in the tight budget year to increase funding.
He added, though, that Thursday’s action in the Senate was an early step in a long process, and he would work to add funds for the two-year schools before a final budget was approved in March or April.
But Davis said adding $15 million to the community colleges at this time would make the Senate budget proposal out of balance.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, offered an amendment that would give the governor the authority to provide the funds from discretionary stimulus funds he controlled.
If he opted not to do that, the funds would come from the state rainy day fund.
That amendment was defeated, before the Gordon amendment was passed by a 39-5 margin.
The additional money for community colleges was provided on a day when dozens of community college faculty, students and administrators rallied at the Capitol for more funding.
David Cole, president of Fulton-based Itawamba Community College, said his board had gone five years without raising tuition, but that might change this year if the Legislature does not provide additional funding.
Because of the money shortage and the inability to hire full-time instructors, Cole said classes are larger and more part-time teachers are being used.
“We have not received enough revenue,” said Cole. “That puts the institutions under stress.”