MICHAELA GIBSON MORRIS: Time to stop playing politics with funding

State funding for education should be a done deal. The state House and Senate voted for level funding for kindergarten through 12th grade education weeks ago. The bill went to conference to work out differences between the two houses. The house conferees have signed off; the senate conferees have not.
Senate leadership apparently is taking a signal from Gov. Haley Barbour that he wants to see more money taken out of the schools’ budget.
I realize there are economic realities that we have to live with. I can appreciate that Gov. Barbour truly believes that he must guard every possible penny for the state’s long term health, not just to burnish his credentials as a fiscal conservative. However, Mississippi is mortgaging its future by not providing sufficient funding for education.
Level funding for schools – no more cuts – is a compromise in itself. Under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program – which is state law – there should be $230 million more for public schools than is currently being proposed.
Every penny we take out of state funding for education matters. Our schools have been squeezed horribly the past three years. Teachers have lost their jobs. The next generation of teachers can’t find jobs in their field, even though there are children who need their energy and expertise.
I have seen the difference that the state budget cuts have made in our schools. When my daughter was in first grade, children who were lagging behind grade level, but not failing, were eligible to work with reading intervention specialists. The next year with the first round of cuts, they only had enough intervention teachers to work with the children who were already failing. We watched a little friend who had great success in getting back on track in first grade lose his footing in second grade.
Cutting state money from education doesn’t save us money. In most cases, the reduction of state funding will simply shift the tax burden. In most cases, districts will be forced to request more funding from property taxes. Districts like Tupelo that have hit the millage cap will have to live with decreased funding, but sooner or later, the bill will come due.
But the real costs are the hardest ones to quantify. Lives are damaged and the state loses potential tax revenue and faces increased demands on the social safety net when kids drop out of school, when businesses don’t come to Mississippi because of an uneducated workforce and when young adults leave Mississippi to find jobs. That’s what we can’t afford.
Public education is something I believe deeply in. I am the proud graduate of Louisiana public schools. My children are public school students.
But this isn’t just about my kids. It’s about every kid and family in the state of Mississippi who depends on the public schools. That’s a lot of voters.

Michaela Gibson Morris is a Daily Journal staff writer and a graduate of the Parents for Public Schools Parent Leadership Institute. Contact her at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@journalinc.com.

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal