EDITORIAL: Funding for 2011

Mississippi’s education leadership from kindergarten through community college presented funding needs for budget year 2011 last week to the Legislative Budget Committee, and not surprisingly, under obligation of law and ethical practice, requested increases that would fully fund the systems.
Some people already are grumbling that the public schools and community colleges just don’t understand that the state is in a recession-related funding squeeze and, in effect, how dare they seek more money.
It’s really simple: K-12 funding statewide is driven by the formula of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, whose math is the calculator for financial adequacy. The formula, in 2011, requires an additional $61.3 million.
Community colleges, whose surging enrollments statewide grew student bodies by 13 percent, far outstripping the eight universities, seek $64.7 million for its version of adequacy. The community colleges’ mandate under law is to move their funding to a “mid-level” between what’s provided per student in K-12 schools and the per-student expenditure at the four regional universities.
As many have noted, the only times MAEP has been fully funded were election years: 2003 (a Democratic administration) and 2007 (a Republican administration), suggesting something less than unwavering commitments by many people to adequate funding based on principle.
While the cuts to MAEP are “only” 5 percent, instigated this month by Gov. Barbour after cutting other agencies, the sum is far from insignificant: $103 million.
The beginning MAEP level was $2.241 billion; after cuts, the amount for MAEP is $2.137 billion. The requested increase for 2011 would place full funding at about $2.3 billion.
Political distortion, much of it coming from people who are not friends of public education, MAEP or community colleges, don’t know or misrepresent what MAEP and “mid-level” are and would do.
The grossest misrepresentation is that MAEP is some kind of gold-plated excess. It is not.
The program is designed to provide all school districts with the money needed to operate an average, adequate school district.
Under the formula, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that each school district receives that average amount of money per pupil.
We remain committed to full funding.
Taxpayers at the local level have a big stake in state-funded adequacy: If the Legislature and the governor fail to fully fund MAEP, local school districts, city boards and councils, and boards of supervisors must face the possibility or necessity of raising local taxes to meet the requirement in law for school accountability.
Some school districts could be required to cash out reserves they have built for capital improvements, academic enrichment, maintenance, expansion, and natural catastrophe recovery.
While stories of financially strapped schools performing exceptionally are true, the evidence shows that adequately funded schools, with qualified teachers and adequate facilities, more generally produce students who achieve and succeed at higher levels.
And, in Mississippi, until all the gaps are closed, we cannot forget as a matter of policy that extra, tangible effort is required to overcome a history of second-class or even non-existent education for all black children, a practice that endured a century longer than we have obeyed laws requiring fully integrated education adequate for all.
The quality of public education affects every facet and measure of well-being, and we believe it should be the uncompromised first priority of funding among the state’s responsibilities.

NEMS Daily Journal

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