OUR OPINION: Public school sector seeks more general fund money

By NEMS Daily Journal

Outspoken Mississippi public education advocate and lobbyist Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, came forward last week reminding legislators that the anticipated $300 million surplus in the 2012-2013 state budget closely parallels a $292 million shortfall in funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
Loome, whose 60,000-member activist lobby keeps steady pressure on legislators about education issues, has noted for years the annual legislative underfunding of MAEP, a violation of the funding formula the Legislature itself set in place.
In an email to members, Loome said, “Please share this good news ($300 million) with your legislators and ask them to commit to using the surplus to fully fund the MAEP before it is spent on other things.”
The surplus, she wrote, “could not come at a better time for Mississippi schoolchildren. Since 2009, our kids’ schools have been shorted approximately $1.3 billion. That means that the Mississippi Legislature has appropriated $1.3 billion less than what state law says is adequate to provide a C level education.”
Her observations resonate with many parents of public school children, teachers and supporters, but the shortfall undercuts performance and quality. Critics of public schools, especially supporters of charter schools, cite performance issues as one public school weakness, but seldom if ever cite the funding shortfall.
The measure of direct impact on schools can be found in Loome’s listing of how much more school districts would be funded if a full appropriation had been approved, for example:
• Alcorn County, $2.2 million
• Amory, $1.1 million
• Booneville, $823,000
• Houston, $1.16 million
• Lee County, $4.4 million
• Tupelo, $4.05 million
• Union County, $1.76 million, and other similarly proportionate amounts across Northeast Mississippi.
Fully funding the MAEP would allow districts to reduce class size, hire the reading coaches they need to meet the new literacy standards, add Advanced Placement courses for the new accountability model, and improve interventions and course offerings.
The Parents’ Campaign will not be alone in coming forward seeking a share in specific proposals. We hope legislators listen and better understand how more revenue is necessary to keep Mississippi on firm footing in the programs it offers.