OUR OPINION: Mississippi can do better on school funding bills

The Mississippi House, apparently feeling pressure and dissatisfaction from a diversity of constituents opposed to its chief proposed spending plan for public education, delayed action on the main bill Wednesday afternoon, a critical pause that should allow additional discussions about adequate education.

House Bill 1476 is the chief target of public school proponents who believe its $25 million increase to partially fund a teacher pay raise for one year, and several alternatives are circulating in the hallways, committee rooms and offices of the Capitol.

This bill underfunds the MAEP – the Mississippi Adequate Education Program – by $265 million. MAEP, by legislative mandate, is supposed to be fully funded every year as the minimum amount effective for producing an adequate education in individual schools. That legal requirement routinely has been ignored since its enactment.

What’s needed is additional, robust discussion about choices available within available funds, but first to honestly discuss how much money is available. The gap between what some legislators say is available differs markedly from what others insist is available within the recurring revenue stream.

Mississippi’s economy, while not a boomtown, is steadily strengthening. The only time you hear politicians talk about how fragile it is when some proposed spending like public education is not to their liking.

It should be remembered by all legislators that only weeks ago Quality Counts 2014’s new results from the Education Week Research Center’s annual analysis of school finance gave Mississippi a D, using data from 2011, the most recent available.

If the economy is as strong in 2014 as many politicians in both parties in Jackson boast for Mississippi, we can do better than a D.

We also believe that Northeast Mississippi’s legislators must reassert their historic leadership in behalf of public education. Our region has been a bellwether of community support for public schools over decades of challenges, and the communities’ support has been reflected in legislators’ votes.

Too often today’s votes appear to be determined from the Capitol rather than from the homes, parents, businesses, school boards, teachers and students of Northeast Mississippi.

Telephone calls, emails, texts and letters all are appropriate in canvassing legislators in support of public schools. Face-to-face conversations are best of all. Listening on their part is, after all, part of the responsibility of elective office.