Gov. Phil Bryant recently completed the burdensome task of studying and signing into law the more than 100 bills that fund state government and that were passed in the final week of the 2014 legislative session
Legislative leaders were eager to point out that while giving teachers a $1,500 raise, costing nearly $65 million, they were able to reduce the amount of one-time money to fund recurring expenses and fill the state’s rainy day fund to at or near its statutory limit of $409 million.
Both are laudable accomplishments. It is important for the state’s fiscal house to be in order.
It also is important to adequately fund public education, and the 2014 Mississippi Legislature did not accomplish that task.
In 1997, the Legislature by a huge, bipartisan majority made the commitment to enact and fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The MAEP funding formula has been described as complex, but it is based on a principle – determine what is adequate to educate a child and provide state funds to accomplish that task. Under the formula, more affluent districts are expected to provide a greater share of local property taxes to accomplish the task than poorer districts.
MAEP has been fully funded twice – 2003 and 2007, both election years.
In a perfect world, MAEP could be fully funded during the 2015 legislative session – another election year – but the formula was more than $255 million short for the upcoming school year. It’s not likely that legislators can make that up in 2015. But the Republican legislative leadership, working with the Democratic minority in a bipartisan manner, can put a plan in place to phase in full funding over a relatively short period.
In 2007, when the Legislature last fully funded MAEP, the state collected $4.937.6 billion in tax revenue. Soon after, the recession hit, resulting in an unprecedented drop in revenue collections and a cut in funding for most state agencies.
Education was hit especially hard. Since 2008, MAEP has been underfunded by a cumulative total of more than $1.5 billion.
In recent years, state revenue collections have rebounded.
Finally in the 2013 fiscal year, state revenue collections surpassed what was collected in 2008. Yet, in 2008, $2.27 billion was appropriated for K-12 education compared to $2.20 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes $65 million for the pay raise.
Many state agencies are now receiving more funding than they got in 2008. But not education.
We can do better – especially with state revenue in Mississippi now growing at a healthy clip.
This summer and fall, legislators should formulate a plan for full MAEP funding and make the first big stride in 2015.