EDITORIAL: Education funding

Gov. Haley Barbour’s ax fell hardest on education budgets from kindergarten through graduate school Thursday. It was the governor’s first spending reduction since the 2010 budget year began July 1 with two consecutive months of less-than-anticipated revenue
The $171.9 million cut is led by education spending reductions of $158 million, or 5 percent. Most state agencies whose budgets were cut less than 5 percent for Fiscal Year 2010 will now see a 5 percent cut from their FY 2009 appropriation, the governor said.
Tax collections for the general fund are $31.7 million, or 5.25 percent, below estimates for the current fiscal year, and even lower compared to 2009 revenues. State law allows the governor to make budget cuts to ensure a balanced budget when revenues are below projections.
Education, in the current recession, cannot expect a full exemption from spending cuts mandated by law when revenues fail to meet expectations, but it should be remembered that Mississippi is struggling to make up historic gaps in school funding and achievement. Cutting education first and heaviest is a setback, and local school districts and university and community college officials must do their best to ensure that the cuts have the least possible impact on educational quality.
Barbour said he expects the impact to be “very, very minimal.” Nancy Loome, executive director of the 53,000-member Parents’ Campaign, a private-sector education advocacy organization, does not share Barbour’s view.
“It is extremely disappointing that Governor Barbour has chosen this simplistic approach to balancing the state budget rather than making education a priority and utilizing all the resources available to him. Though Mississippi has over $300 million in reserve, the governor is leaving these resources untapped and is, instead, asking our children to make up the shortfall from their education appropriation,’’ she said in a statement soon after the announcement.
But the larger problem could develop down the road when federal stimulus funds dry up and state funds, already cut, possibly aren’t restored to keep pace with commitments and needs. That’s one strong argument for not tapping state reserve funds now – there is likely to be an even greater need for them in the next fiscal year and beyond.
We stand by our long-time position that adequately investing in education is the best investment Mississippi can make, and the federal stimulus funds reviled in some quarters have averted a serious crisis in education funding for the time being.
Education has borne the brunt of these cuts, and any cuts in coming months should spare schools. Short-term sacrifice is one thing; prolonged retreat is unacceptable.

NEMS Daily Journal