Miss. House approves bill for education funding

Published 9:28 pm Friday, February 1, 2008

The Mississippi House has passed a bill that puts millions more dollars into education for the budget year that starts July 1.

The bill passed Thursday on a 95-26 vote.

The bill includes enough money to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a complicated funding formula designed to ensure that each school district receives enough money to meet midlevel accreditation standards.

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The bill also includes money to increase teachers’ pay starting next January.

MAEP is based on each district’s average daily attendance. House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said about half of the districts — more than 70 — have lost students since the last time the attendance figures were calculated.

To keep those districts from having a dramatic budget decrease, the House bill includes extra money — enough to cover about half of what each of the districts with shrinking enrollment would lose under the pure MAEP formula.

“We’re beginning with our priorities, and our priority is public education,” said Brown.

Legislators are in the fourth week of their session, and they’re expected to do most of the detailed work on the overall state budget more than two months from now.

The House plan moves to the Senate for more work.

Some House members said Thursday that it is too early to set the education budget. They said fixing the Medicaid budget should be the first priority.

Medicaid executive director Robert L. Robinson has requested $87 million to get the program through June 30, the end of the current budget year; that would be on top of the $513 million the state is already putting into Medicaid.

Robinson also says the program needs a $168 million increase for the budget year that starts July 1. Legislative budget writers have suggested a smaller increase.

Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said legislators cannot ignore the Medicaid budget problems.

“We’ve got a crisis and we do not have the money to fix it,” Snowden said.

Snowden — whose wife and daughter teach in public schools — said he expects to vote for a solid education budget by the end of the session but he believes it’s too early to start setting aside money now.

The bill that passed the House includes what would be a 3 percent annual raise for teachers, but the teachers would receive the money for only half of the budget year, starting Jan. 1, 2009.

The bill also includes $8 million for a high school restructuring program pushed by state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds and $5 million for vocational education equipment. That’s significantly less than the $20 million the Department of Education is requesting for the restructuring.

The House plan also would put money into a mentoring program for teachers and into a dyslexia screening program for young children. Barbour has requested both of these programs.

The bill is House Bill 513.