School Funding Bill Passes House Appropriations Committee

3/8/2016

The decisions legislators make on corporate tax breaks have a direct impact on the level of funding our children’s schools receive. Special legislative favors, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks granted to corporations over the last few years, are shrinking state revenue.

Legislators now propose to solve their self-created revenue shortage by cutting essential state services

The school funding bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee today provides no increase at all for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), and it cuts funding for K-12 overall by about $7.6-million

While MAEP funding is recommended to remain the same as the current year (well below what the state requires), cuts are recommended for other K-12 support, including reductions in the General Education line item. General Education funding covers costs such as professional development for teachers, teacher supply funds, content specialists to help low-performing schools, the expenses of the Mississippi Department of Education, etc. It isn't clear from the recommendation which of these programs are slated for cuts. The committee also recommended cuts to the Schools for the Blind and the Deaf

More bad news is that the draconian "63 percent attendance rule" continues to cost school districts critical funding, as schools have their funding reduced for any student who misses more than 37 percent of the instructional day. Many believe decreasing school funding was the real intent of the "63 percent" legislation when it was passed in 2013. If so, the Legislature is getting its way. Because of a decreased attendance number, the amount of funding required to fully fund the MAEP is lower for next year than it is in the current year. Because the "full funding" amount is lower, even if the actual MAEP appropriation remains exactly the same, the under-funding amount will move from $201-million to $172-million. Legislators will likely claim to be doing better in regard to school funding when, in fact, schools are no better off.

You might remember that both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in the last legislative session to remove the unreasonable attendance provision and, instead, provide schools funding for every child enrolled. However, in a procedural move, that bill was killed by the Senate leadership on the last day of the session. A similar bill is working its way through the Legislature again this year.

Most budget categories will see cuts under the plan adopted by the House Appropriations Committee. Exceptions that will see increases are Debt Service, the Capital Post-Conviction Counsel, and the Department of Human Services, which is under a court order to correct Mississippi's horrific lack of protection for children in foster care. Even the increase provided Human Services is $4-million short of what is required in the federal court order. 

The horrible truth is that our Legislature has willingly created a budget shortfall so severe that Mississippi cannot afford to take care of her children. Consequently, Mississippi is ranked as the very worst place in the entire country to be a child. We cannot afford an adequate level of education funding, and we cannot afford reasonable protection for children in foster care.

How did this happen? Over the last several years, a majority of legislators have voted repeatedly to reduce state revenue through enormous corporate tax breaks at the request of corporate lobbyists. They have put the wishes of corporate lobbyists ahead of the well-being of our children, declining to provide adequately for our schools while piling on mandates and punitive measures and criticizing student performance.

Starkville mom Leslie Fye describes here how the constant changes in performance targets and the negative messages from elected officials are hurting students and teachers.

Please talk with your legislators about the importance of ensuring that our state has sufficient revenue to educate and protect our children, and ask that they stop hampering our students and teachers with additional punitive measures.

The truth is, our schools are doing remarkably well despite terribly insufficient resources, constant threats, and seemingly endless hoops through which to jump. We've been digging into the achievement data, and the news is very good at both the state and national levels. There's lots to brag about - more to come in a few days.  

Our Legislature, however, does not have much about which to boast. If we can't afford to take care of our children, then certainly the state of the State of Mississippi is not "sound" as Governor Bryant reported in January. No, if we can't afford to educate and protect our children, we are in pretty sorry shape.