OUR OPINION: Help education recover the years of lost funds

Consequences of Mississippi’s avoiding fully funding its basic education needs become more serious with every year of delay and the erosion caused by inflation and rising costs.

The question that’s already pressing in the earliest stages of the budgeting process for 2015 (budget year 2014 started July 1) is what, if anything, legislators, beginning with the leadership, will do to close the gaps between what’s required in law and what’s been committed, which is $290 million less than full funding this year under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula.

In sum, since the recession started in late 2007, Mississippi’s lawmakers and executive leadership have underfunded MAEP by $1.3 billion. It was the Legislature, it should be noted, that passed MAEP and set the funding standard, but it has failed more often than not to meet the obligation it imposed.

In more direct terms, Mississippi is spending 13.1 percent, $648 adjusted for inflation, less for each boy and girl enrolled than in 2008, the Washington-based, non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has reported.

Bloomberg News reported that at least 34 states spend less on kindergarten through 12th grade on a per-pupil basis during the current school year than in 2008, with inflation factored in.

The figures, Bloomberg reported, show “how public schools haven’t recovered from the 18-month recession that ended in 2009, which led governments to reduce spending when tax revenue dropped.”

However, Mississippi is among those states where state revenues have rebounded, not spectacularly but enough to indicate growing confidence. While it’s correct that many states, including Mississippi, have put more money into education the sums have not been enough to recover lost ground.

Mississippi’s public schools, cumulatively $1.3 billion in the hole, need the same momentum of advocacy in the Legislature that empowered passage of MAEP, the acknowledged recent benchmark in education policy.

Support for public education should never be a partisan issue because adequate, effective education is the foundation for every state’s success.

The rank and file of public school supporters can play an important role in raising education funding’s profile in the 2014 session, not by raising taxes but by pressing their individual legislators to respond to the clearly stated needs of every public school district rather than a blanket leadership mandate from either party.