Northeast Mississippi’s school superintendents, who are closer to individual school and district needs than almost anyone else, met in Tupelo this week with leaders of their statewide organization to discuss the 2014 legislative session.
It should surprise no one that school leaders stay tuned to the political pulse of the Legislature, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.
Superintendents meeting in Tupelo support a three-point legislative plan:
• Change the law passed in 2012 prohibiting schools from beginning their fall semesters before the third week in August. Lawmakers, driven by tourism interests looking for an extended late summer vacation season, took school opening dates out of the hands of local school boards. They should repeal the law and restore local options to the starting dates for the semesters. School administrators reasonably cite completion of the first semester before the Christmas holidays and other calendar situations as more important than perceptions of what’s good for one industry.
• Support for a general salary increase for Mississippi teachers, who have not seen a raise since 2007. Mississippi teachers are among the lowest paid on average among the states. Our state needs to make teaching an attractive financial option for bright young university students who want to teach but also must make decisions about making a living.
• Support full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the baseline financial needs to provide a minimal level of support needed to enable schools to provide an adequate education. It has not been fully funded since 2008 – that is, its statutory formula is not enforced. If the state’s support is not adequate for the foundational support program for schools will not be adequate.
The superintendents’ requests, notably for MAEP funding and teacher pay raises, aren’t surprising and are in line with the concerns of longtime advocates of educational improvement in Mississippi.
The preliminary estimate for full MAEP funding is down $28 million from last year’s request. This is a direct result of years of underfunding from the state, which affects the formula. Over the past six years, MAEP has been underfunded $1.3 billion based on the formula in the law, $293 million of that in the current fiscal year.
To meet the state’s obligation under MAEP the Legislature will need to increase funding by $264.5 million over what it currently provides. That’s a lot to handle in a single year, but a plan to get there – sooner rather than later – should be a priority legislative goal.