Nonprofit group gearing up for school-funding push

Published 5:17 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2006

A new nonprofit group is trying to mobilize parents to lobby for full education funding, but a key lawmaker says public school supporters need to be careful not to slam lawmakers who might be their friends.

“I think the greatest obstacle to this group will be that they may attack the very people that have helped them the most in the past. And that’s unfortunate,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg.

Nancy Loome is executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, a nonprofit group formed this summer. Speaking Monday in Jackson, Loome said the group is trying to compile thousands of e-mail and traditional mailing addresses for school supporters around the state.

During the session, which starts in January, Loome said The Parents’ Campaign will keep people informed about developments on school funding and other issues, with the thought that locals can push lawmakers to support education.

“This does not have to be an antagonistic thing. We’re talking about having conversations with legislators about where our priorities lie,” Loome said during a luncheon sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government.

Before being hired by The Parents’ Campaign, Loome had become a familiar face at the Capitol, where the mother of three school-aged children had worked as a volunteer lobbyist on education issues.

Loome and Chaney had a verbal exchange in 2005 during a teachers’ rally at the Capitol. She said later that she “simply pointed out politely a discrepancy between his claim to support the full funding of MAEP and his vote.”

MAEP is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a complicated formula put into state law in 1997 over the veto of then-Gov. Kirk Fordice. MAEP is designed to give every school district enough money to meet midlevel accreditation standards. It has been fully funded only once, during the election year of 2003.

Though the state has put millions more dollars into public education the past three years, the $2 billion-plus MAEP is about $120 million below full funding.

Chaney attended the Stennis lunch on Monday. In an interview after Loome’s speech, he said it’s good to raise awareness of issues, but lawmakers might not be able to give every group everything it wants.

“The deeper you get into an issue, the harder it is to coin a cliche to put in the paper,” Chaney said. “If you fully fund education, the Adequate Education Formula, which I helped write in 1997, then everything will be hunky-dory and perfect. They can hang the blame on the Legislature, but it will not solve the problem.”

Asked what will improve schools, Chaney said “everybody working together … to have a better education system” and trying to have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.

Former Secretary of State Dick Molpus is vice chairman of The Parents’ Campaign. He said most Mississippi politicians now claim to support public schools.

“The problem is that some of our legislators are sincere when they claim to be pro-education. Others are saying it because their pollsters tell them to,” Molpus said Monday.

Forest Thigpen, president of the nonprofit Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said the state needs to improve its public schools.

“But I don’t agree that the only solution is simply to arbitrarily spend more money,” Thigpen said. “There are schools that need more money, there’s no question about that. But our concern is to look at how the money is being spent, not just how much is being spent.”