OUR OPINION: ‘Halfway’ proposal puts full MAEP funding in reach

By NEMS Daily Journal

Increasing momentum for a 2013 legislative session focused on education in Mississippi cannot avoid confronting issues of adequate funding, the core of support to which all substantial education progress is attached in one way or another.
The cumulative, legislatively created shortfall in funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program since 2007 is almost $1 billion. The funds are mandated by the law but, in effect, ignored by the Legislature.
The last full funding year for MAEP was 2007, a statewide election year.
Concerns additionally are expressed about how shortfalls in funding during the budget years since 2007 could diminish what the state is required to provide school districts. If the formula is recalculated in the 2013 session, the state could owe school districts $170 million less, a significant loss by any calculation.
The Legislature and its leadership are divided on funding. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says he is determined to increase funding in Fiscal Year 2013-2014, which will be the budget debated in 2013. However, Reeves made no commitment about restoring full funding. That doesn’t mean he would not support it if shown a practical way, which may be in the discussion stream.
One practical approach to the adequate funding shortfall has come from outside the Capitol.
Proposed by the Parents’ Campaign, a statewide, pro-public education advocacy organization that’s privately funded, the plan has been dubbed “Halfway to Full Funding” – with a proposed $150 million increase in MAEP in the 2014 budget, with a goal of full funding by the end of the 2014 session, which would be the 2015 budget cycle.
This year – the 2013 budget year – MAEP is underfunded $259.7 million, so a $150 million increase for 2014 would make substantial progress, and if followed by proportionate effort in the 2015 budget the shortfall could be eliminated.
Plus, climbing back to full funding would help adjust the formula funding totals upward to in effect restore the money lost in chronically underfunding MAEP.
Reeves and House Speaker Phil Gunn, whose influence with the chambers they lead is arguably greater than the governor, could set Mississippi on a better path by ensuring significant progress to full funding, then dealing with charter schools for chronically failing districts.