Study: Education underfunding affects class

djournal-education-newsBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Underfunding of public education has resulted in a reduction in teachers, increased class size and facilities that do not adhere to safety standards, according to a study done of five school districts.

Rhea Williams-Bishop, executive director of the Center for Education Innovation, said Thursday her organization commissioned the study to move beyond the political rhetoric surrounding public education funding.

“We wanted some hard information to see what effects the ongoing reductions in state funding are having on our local districts,” said Pamela Shaw, president of P3 Strategies of Jackson, a consulting firm that worked with the Center for Education Innovation. The center is a Mississippi non-profit that works on educational issues, especially those involving “vulnerable children.”

Of the underfunding, Shaw said the study showed “those effects are real and directly impact our schoolchildren. It’s time we reverse the erosion of state support and fully fund education.”

The districts involved in the study were Cleveland, East Jasper, Hattiesburg, Jackson and McComb.

According to the study, during the past three years, the five districts have eliminated more than 100 teacher positions, four of the five have increased class size and four have facilities that they cannot afford to fix to adhere to building codes.

The districts, which combined are receiving $6.6 million less than four years ago, also have been forced to tap into reserve funds to at least partially offset the loss of state funds.

David Hampton, former editorial director for The Clarion-Ledger, who conducted the study, said the five districts were part of a consortium developed by the Center of Innovation to work together on student improvement issues.

But he said the districts, representing both urban and rural areas, are indicative of many districts across the state struggling the most because of underfunding – those with a high percentage of low-income minority students.

Districts in Northeast Mississippi cited as being similar to the five studied districts include Aberdeen, Okolona, Benton County, Oktibbeha, Marshall County and West Point.

Since Fiscal Year 2010, K-12 education has been underfunded a cumulative $1.24 billion, based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program’s formula in state law. For the upcoming 2015 fiscal year, which starts July 1, legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Bryant have proposed essentially level funding for education.

The Center for Education Innovation report was presented to about 40 legislators during a luncheon Thursday. Only five of the legislators were Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com