When it comes to underfunding of public education in Mississippi, the number is $1.2 billion and counting.
That’s how much ground has been lost since the last time the Mississippi Adequate Education Program was funded at the level required by law – Fiscal Year 2008, after an election-year legislative session.
Mississippi’s economy is slowly improving. State tax revenues are creeping back up. Yet K-12 education hasn’t been the beneficiary of that improvement.
The House has decided for the time being that flat funding is what the state’s public schools will get this year. It voted 66-53 Tuesday against a procedural maneuver that would have permitted a vote on higher funding for education for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
No increase – except for $25 million for the first phase of a teacher pay increase, necessary for sure – is simply unacceptable. At a minimum, lawmakers ought to be crafting and implementing the first stages of a plan that would phase in full funding for MAEP.
After all, it’s the law.
House leaders have suggested they may look again at education funding later in the 2014 session. They say they want to see how revenue projections may change, and these things usually aren’t settled for good until late March or early April as the session winds down.
For the sake of the state’s schoolchildren, lawmakers must do better than what’s currently on the table.
Underfunding education is not some abstract exercise. It has consequences for students – fewer teachers, shrunken course offerings, larger classes, among the most obvious. School districts also report struggling with transportation costs and other necessities of running a school district.
The severe recession of recent years put a dent in state revenues of historic proportions. Not reaching the law’s requirements on MAEP funding could be excused, though not at the level the Legislature fell behind. The excuse is wearing thin.
Much more than ever is being expected of Mississippi’s schools. Our state has one of the strongest accountability systems in the nation. The rigorous Common Core state standards kick in for good next school year.
We can’t continue asking more and more of the schools while giving them less and less in the dollars deemed sufficient only for an “adequate” education.
The state must get education funding to a level that approximates what the Legislature itself has said is the minimum for adequacy, and the time to start is long overdue.