OUR OPINION: Legislative will is waning on MAEP

By NEMS Daily Journal

The badly underfunded Mississippi Adequate Education Program stirred critical questioning Wednesday by some legislators on the Legislative Budget Committee, which was holding hearings this week on all major state programs.
The sharpest questioning came from Senate President Pro Tem Terry Brown, a Lowndes County Republican, who asked Interim Superintendent Lynn House and state Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth if it’s not time to look at scrapping MAEP, the statewide program adopted in 1997 and fully implemented in 2002.
House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, also a Lowndes County Republican, asked, “Do you really think asking for a $300 million increase is something we can do as a budget committee?”
No one on the legislative side offered comments about the Legislature keeping the commitment for full funding made with the program’s passage and implementation, achieved just twice.
The budget request for 2014 – the fiscal cycle starting July 1, 2013 – is required under law from the state board, which has mostly butted its head against legislative walls over MAEP funding since implementation.
A proposed study of revamping the MAEP formula, also set by the Legislature, could lead to actual reductions in spending by the state for schools, but Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said his goal would be to increase funding for MAEP every year.
The whole purpose of MAEP is to assure that even the poorest districts receive funding to provide an adequate education.
It is fair to ask how reducing funds from the state to the poorest local districts as measured by local financial capacity from school taxes would advance the cause of adequate education.
Nancy Loome, executive director of the 60,000-member Parents Campaign, wrote on the non-profit advocacy effort’s website: “The legislature is tasked with finding a way to fund the services that will make us a more prosperous state – chief among them a high quality public education system.
“Teacher’s jobs are hard, too, and their jobs, too, have been made harder by tough economic times. But legislators continue to hold educators to high standards – as they should. Likewise, legislators should be held accountable for meeting a high standard ….”
She noted that the best example of wisely spent resources probably is the “profound impact made in the last two years” in the Barksdale Reading Institute’s (BRI) Principal Project.”
BRI, a private-sector initiative, invested heavily in target schools, to the tune of $3.3 million. In just two years, the average increase in Quality of Distribution Index, a key measure, increased by 30 points.
Adequate resources make a quantitative difference.