The Mississippi Senate wants to “fully fund” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), well, sort of.
Recall that full funding of the adequate education program has been a contentious issue since it first passed in 1997. At that time state leaders feared potential lawsuits for inequitable funding among schools. MAEP was designed to address those inequities. Adopted at the same time as the Mississippi Accountability System, MAEP was also supposed to provide teachers and schools the financial means to bring student performance up to the new accountability standards. However, the formula driven program has only been fully funded twice, in 2003 and 2008. (Note: the Legislature appropriated full funding for 2009 and 2010 but mid-year budget cuts reduced actual funds received.)
The bill passed by the Senate to fund MAEP made two adjustments to the formula that would reduce the overall state outlay. It is this reduced total that would be “fully funded.”
One of the two adjustments would increase some local contributions by a small amount. Required minimum local contributions would rise from 27% to 29.5%. The other change would alter the periodic adjustment for inflation to a factor based on 20-year rolling averages. The two changes would reduce the extra cost for full funding from $261 million to $181 million.
The extra $181 million would be just a 7% increase to the overall MAEP budget.
The Senate’s unanimous action was not unanimously popular. Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statement saying, “Instead of funneling more money to the District offices – where our kids won’t see it – why not another teacher pay raise? Put it in the classroom!”
Well, schools do have other legitimate needs, as the former Lt. Governor well knows. MAEP funds textbooks and other instructional materials – an area of great need for many schools; basic operational costs such as utilities and facilities maintenance – both critical to good learning environments; transportation – school bus fuel and maintenance costs have surged; special education, vocational education, gifted education, alternative education – all of which directly impact children; district employee salaries; and retirement and insurance for all employees.
Another criticism came from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. After the Senate’s overwhelming vote to approve MAEP funding, Center director Douglas Carswell threw a hissy fit calling the action “political posturing” and a rush job that failed to consider the radical changes the policy center promotes.
Who is doing the posturing here? Both Reeves and the policy center have touted recent improvements in student performance. Better school funding when money is plentiful would seem to be in order to continue such improvement. The House will now decide if that is to happen.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson. He was a member of Gov. Haley Barbour’s PERS Study Committee in 2011.
“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” – Jeremiah 17:10.