OUR OPINION: Education fund requires larger share of revenue

Mississippi’s state tax revenue growth for the past three budget years places our state in the enviable position of being able to plan for bolder investment in vital programs like public education without anticipating a tax rate increase.

Mississippi’s 2014 fiscal year ended June 30, and July 1 began the 2014-2015 budget cycle, for which appropriations were made during the 2014 legislative session.

Since 2012, Mississippi’s revenue has increased from $4.9 billion to $5.37 billion, an average of 5.53 percent.

The 2015 revenue total is projected to grow 1.6 percent, but if revenues exceed projections during coming months that figure could be revised upward, as was the case in the spring of 2014.

Revenue increases during the past three budget years rise from a slowly growing economy, less robust than the national average for revenue increases, but preferable to consecutive years of revenue declines during the “great recession” late in the first decade of the 21st century.

In Mississippi, for the fiscal year ending on June 30, revenue grew by 5.57 percent, or $284.9 million, to $5.37 billion.

State revenue includes the sales tax on retail items, income taxes, corporate income taxes, casino taxes, the tax on insurance premiums and a few other smaller categories.

The recent growth allowed Gov. Phil Bryant and the Legislature to put the state budget back on more sound footing. The “rainy day” fund is filled to $409.5 million; teachers and some state employees have been given raises.

The weak link in the revenue growth’s benefits is public education, whose Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula remains badly underfunded.

That shortfall stands in stark contrast to revenue growth.

House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson said the Legislature has been working toward full MAEP funding, a priority seldom achieved.

It is long past time to make full funding the rule, not the exception.

The Parents Campaign reports, “The Legislature appropriated $257 million less (in 2014) for our children’s schools than is required by state law. That means that our public schools are operating on budgets that are $257 million short of what is required to run a ‘C’ level school. Considering that our children have been short-changed by more than $250 million in each legislative session under the current administration, a $7.4 million move to close the gap is not a serious effort.”

Change the education priority, and at the same time improve our state’s future.