By NEMS Daily Journal
Northeast Mississippi legislators who attended Monday night’s regional meeting of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents in Tupelo heard a clear message about administrators’ 2013 legislative priorities, and the list begins pressing lawmakers to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
Passed in 1997 and fully implemented in 2002, MAEP is designed to provide enough funding for adequate education in every school district. It’s a good idea, but it falls short of hopes – and expectations – because it has been fully funded just twice. As noted at Monday’s MASS meeting, it has been underfunded by $962 million. The Legislature, governors and lieutenant governors haven’t kept the commitment made by lawmakers. In state budget year 2013, which started July 1, MAEP is shortchanged by $260 million.
A request for full MAEP funding is not unreasonable. The state’s keeping its word is not exempted from the common understanding of commitment.
Monroe County Superintendent Scott Cantrell told the gathering of about 100 administrators that the cumulative underfunding is equivalent to 21,000 professional teaching positions.
Other, similar meetings statewide also are scheduled this week; the Department of Education’s 2014 budget-cycle hearing with the Legislative Budget Committee unfolds today.
Speakers also addressed the association’s and most superintendents’ differences with some legislators, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant over how a charter school law should be written and how charter schools should be allowed to operate. The issue was fought to a heated stalemate in the 2012 session, and it has barely subsided in the off-session interim. MASS seeks authorization only by the existing state board, not a separate board, a pilot program before full implementation, the same accountability standards as all other public schools, and all students having access – no cherry-picking allowed.
Legislators could not agree this year, and none of the lines appear to have softened. Opposition to charter schools was especially strong in “successful” districts, now “C” under the new state system, which MASS maintains should be given veto power over any charter schools within their boundaries.
The issue of “F” schools, as graded under accountability standards, could be a point of compromise. Some educators and legislators believe charter schools in Mississippi could be most effective in areas with the lowest-performing schools.
MASS also supports raises for teachers, last given a general increase in 2007, and strong measures to assure the stability of the Public Employees Retirement System, the pension program for all state employees.
The MASS agenda alone is enough to create a sizable work load for the session beginning in early January.