EDITORIAL: Level funding

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate, in a 29-22 vote on Wednesday, rejected its Appropriations Committee’s Tuesday reduction of 2012 education funding by $81 million, restoring funding to the level passed by the House in HB 1494.
All Northeast Mississippi senators in both parties – except, disappointingly, Republican Sen. Nancy Collins of Lee and Pontotoc counties – voted for level funding. Collins was elected in January, succeeding newly elected Congressman Alan Nunnelee.
The bill, rather than going to Gov. Barbour for his signature or an anticipated veto, will go to a conference committee with the House because the implementation date was changed in the Senate version.
Going to conference sets the stage for negotiations that will include, as a non-voting presence and influence, Barbour’s position.
Level funding is the better choice in committee because the public schools, even in HB 1494, will be about $285 million below the full funding level called for in the MAEP formula. MAEP is the statewide plan setting a minimum funding level to achieve education adequacy in each school.
Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, a strong education advocate, said the goal must become a “stair-step” restoration of funding to the full amount in the MAEP formula. He said reaching that level could require several years.
A conference committee can change legislation and issue a report to both chambers that’s different from the legislation approved by either or both.
The bill sets funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in budget year 2012 at $2.108 billion. That’s $16 million higher than the 2011 level because of anticipated higher pension costs, but that figure could be revised downward.
The bipartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommended level funding. We hope that commitment is kept by the Legislature – and Gov. Barbour.