By NEMS Daily Journal
It’s often said that money isn’t the answer to problems in education, and that’s true as far as it goes. But without adequate money, most improvement efforts are hindered from the start.
Buildings and the necessary equipment for classroom instruction cost money. Still-underpaid teachers do as well.
Mississippi has never adequately funded its public schools on a sustained basis – even after it passed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program 15 years ago. Since it went into full effect in 2002, MAEP has been fully funded under the law’s formula only twice, in election years 2003 and 2007.
MAEP is the most significant post-1982 public education milestone chronicled in today’s installment of the ongoing Daily Journal series “The State of our Schools.” It attacked the indefensible condition that the quality of a child’s education depends in large measure on where he or she lives.
Some districts have a lot of valuable property to tax in generating local school support. Some poorer areas have a paucity.
MAEP addressed this inequity with a formula designed to increase funding for all districts but provide a disproportionate share to districts where local taxes can’t generate sufficient local support. It has saved Mississippi from the equity lawsuits faced by many states while serving as strong testimony to the state’s commitment to public education.
Mississippi has made dramatic strides in per pupil funding and is no longer in the lowest tier of states after spending most of its history at the bottom. As Daily Journal education reporter Chris Kieffer reported in Sunday’s paper, in the mid-20th century per pupil spending in Mississippi was a mere 37 percent of the national average and only 57 percent of the southern states’ average. We had a huge gap to overcome.
The correlation between state per-pupil spending and academic performance isn’t absolute, but it’s there, with notable exceptions. Mississippi’s $9,708 figure still trails the nation’s $11,665 by a wide margin. While it represents progress, as the state with the nation’s highest poverty rate Mississippi faces special challenges that can be costly.
Efficiencies are a must. More school district consolidation should be on the table in the future. Performance must improve.
But Mississippi can’t afford to backtrack on its commitment, over time, to making the promise of MAEP a full, sustained reality.