OUR OPINION: School support never takes summer break

Advocacy for public education in Mississippi has no off-season. The pressing needs, beginning with inadequate basic financing from the state, demand full-time attention.

This month, The Parents Campaign issued refreshed information about the short-changed allocation of funds for public schools through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

The MAEP, passed by the Legislature, could have been the biggest step forward in the history of Mississippi schools, but it has fallen short of its potential because the Legislature (with the complicity of some governors) has not fully funded the MAEP formula, which is a law.

If individuals failed to pay bills as they come due as lawmakers have failed to pay for MAEP the legal consequences would have kicked in long ago.

MAEP is a law that provides a formula that is designed to ensure an adequate education for every Mississippi child – whether that child lives in a “wealthy” community or a “poor” one.

Note that the formula is not intended to provide funding for top-tier spending, simply an amount for adequate achievement.

The MAEP provides funding for essential things but nothing that could be called frills:

• Teacher and other district employee salaries, retirement and insurance

• Textbooks and other instructional materials

• Basic operational costs (utilities, facility maintenance, etc.)

The MAEP formula does not include funding for administrators’ salaries, transportation, special education, vocational education, gifted education, alternative education, teacher supplies, increases in insurance premiums, building funds for facility maintenance and improvement, salary increases mandated by the legislature for the next fiscal year and school improvement programs

The shameful truth about school funding in Mississippi is that since 2011 (the last election year), recurring state revenue has increased by more than $800 million. During that same time, funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program has increased by only $113 million, or 14 percent of the increase in available funding.

A newly developing initiative, rising from the private sector, The Better Schools Better Jobs initiative, would require the Legislature to use at least 25 percent of new growth to build up the Mississippi Adequate Education Program fund to provide the basics for a good education.

Mississippians who support public education cannot expect progress without effort, and so far the opponents of adequate public education appear to have worked smarter, harder and longer.

The summer offers a perfect time for meeting, planning and building MAEP momentum for late 2014 and the all-important 2015 state election year. Our schools depend on it.