EDITORIAL: Looking ahead

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Legislature convened Tuesday, and most of its 2011 time in Jackson will be spent debating issues involving money – how much Mississippi will have for the 2012 budget cycle and how much should be spent on state-funded programs.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which meets in the fall before a new session starts, recommends that funding for K-12 education hold level and not be subject to additional cuts beyond those imposed in a period of minimal revenue growth and heavy dependence on federal stimulus money, which ends with the 2011 budget year June 30. Holding the line at the current funding level for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program may be necessary but it cannot become the goal for funding public education.
Nancy Loome, in an e-mail this week to the 60,000 members of the pro-education Parents’ Campaign, made two notable, broad points about the funding situation:
• The real budget negotiations are just beginning, and the Legislative Budget Committee recommendation is subject to debate and change by the House and Senate.
• Level funding is not full funding. Level funding means that public schools will continue operating with far less money than required in the legislatively approved formula in MAEP – approximately $230 million below what state law says is adequate to educate Mississippi children.
The education budget has been subjected to massive cuts – deeper than those experienced by most other state agencies: While the whole state budget was cut by 9.3 percent for the current year, K-12 education was cut by 11.94 percent. Loome and many others assert, as a result of those cuts, class sizes are larger, resources are reduced and teachers are experiencing higher “burnout” caused by difficult circumstances with reduced resources.
We agree that looking ahead, legislators and the governor must make education a highest priority and strive to get our schools back to full funding.
The Parents’ Campaign says this year’s MAEP’s underfunding has caused:
• The loss of more than over 2,000 education personnel.
• Reduced elective options.
• Reduced advanced placement offerings.
• Reduced gifted classes.
• Reduced intervention programs for struggling students.
• Reduced extracurricular activities.
Rising costs require that public education spending keep pace with what’s required to adequately educate our state’s children. Holding the line under duress is not a plan for the future.
Mississippi’s public schools educate more than 91 percent of the state’s K-12 students – more than 500,000 children. We can’t afford to shirk the responsibility.

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