By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Nine Senate Republicans joined with the Democratic minority on Wednesday to buck the chamber’s leadership and provide an additional $60 million for public education.
Sen. Hob Bryan’s amendment to add $60 million to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program passed 26-24 Wednesday.
The Senate leadership had proposed essentially level funding MAEP, plus $65 million for its teacher pay raise proposal. Keeping funding level for MAEP, which provides the bulk of the state’s contribution for the basics of operating local school districts, is about $265 million short of full funding under the formula in law.
All Northeast Mississippi senators voted for the additional education funding with the exception of Sens. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, and Gary Jackson, R-French Camp.
Included among the Republicans voting for the Bryan amendment was Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford. Tollison said by the vote he was expressing hope that additional, needed funds can be added to the budget for local school districts in conference when House and Senate leaders meet to hammer out a final agreement to fund all aspects of state government.
Bryan said Wednesday’s vote was important because it stated that in conference during negotiations with the House that it was the position of the Senate to provide additional funding for public education.
The House, like the Senate leadership, has proposed essentially level funding for K-12 schools.
Bryan’s amendment, if it were to become law, would mean, for instance, an additional $813,000 for Tupelo, $928,000 for Lee County, $222,000 for Amory and $281,000 for New Albany.
During debate on the Senate floor, Bryan said the legislative leadership was bragging about having more than $500 million in reserves by underfunding the public schools. The result, he said, has been school districts having to eliminate advanced courses, lay off teachers and raise local taxes.
He cited giving tax breaks of more than $150 million to build retail shopping malls and various other tax breaks passed in recent years.
“We seem to have all matters of money for other things,” he said. “Why is it providing an additional $60 million to the public schools is such an unthinkable thing?”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said the money is not available.
“The needs are greater than the amount of money we have,” Clarke said.
Bryan’s amendment would take the funds from the budget for Medicaid. But he stressed that it was not his intention to underfund Medicaid. He said in conference money would be available to fund both, but legislative rules prevent a member from offering an amendment to spend those funds.