OUR OPINION: MAEP fund boost offers hope for real adequacy

The Mississippi Senate surprisingly and encouragingly on Wednesday added $60 million for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in the education budget for Fiscal Year 2015, beginning July 1.

The additional funding provides a platform on which an almost certain Senate-House conference committee can work toward strengthening the main funding source for public schools.

The vote in support of the amendment offered by Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, was bipartisan. Bryan said Mississippi has reserve funds in several sources that ultimately can be used to provide the extra money.

Supporters of the amendment included Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who joined eight other GOP members and the chamber’s Democrats to carry the amendment 26-24.

All Northeast Mississippi senators voted for the extra $60 million except Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, and Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp.

The $60 million, if finally approved, would reduce the $265 million shortfall in full funding for the MAEP under the formula in state law.

The Senate leadership had proposed essentially level funding, an amount widely criticized by education advocates who contend public schools cannot teach to their full potential without full funding.

Bryan’s amendment would cut $60 million from the Medicaid program, but that proposal was the only way to amend the education amount. The plan going forward is to have a conference committee – which does not include procedural restrictions – apply other funds to MAEP.

Tollison said his vote expressed hope that additional, needed funds can be added to the budget for the local school districts in conference when House and Senate leaders meet to hammer out a final agreement to fund state government.

Bryan’s amendment would mean an additional $813,000 for Tupelo, $928,000 for Lee County, $222,000 for Amory and $281,000 for New Albany, to cite four examples.

Bryan said underfunding has meant school districts having to eliminate advanced courses, lay off teachers and raise local taxes.

“We seem to have all matters of money for other things,” he said. “Why is it providing an additional $60 million to the public schools is such an unthinkable thing?”

We hope school supporters strongly urge legislators to make a substantially increased commitment to MAEP, which is the foundation for strong public education in our state.