Democrats push full school funding

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 21, 2014

By Agnes Dalton

Guest Columnist 

Wednesday, Senate Democrats called for full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and long-overdue raises to retain dedicated teachers and state employees, laying out a three-year plan to pay for it all without raising taxes.

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The plan calls for an immediate $1,000-a-year pay raise for teachers and state workers, including those at universities and community colleges. By the third year, it would fully fund MAEP, raise teachers’ salaries by $5,000, and provide similar raises for state employees, a plan that can be funded within existing state revenues.

“Every business owner knows how important a productive work force is,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “Over the past seven years, teachers and state workers have had their take-home pay reduced because their insurance has gone up and their retirement contributions have increased. They have been patient and understanding, but now that we have increasing revenue, we can begin to do right by them.

“If we don’t act now, our really good employees are going to take other, more lucrative jobs, and that will hurt all taxpayers. We just can’t afford not to be competitive,” he said.

State law requires full funding of the MAEP, the program which provides the bulk of the money for public schools, but it has been underfunded in recent years, costing local school districts $1 billion. As a result, schools have laid off teachers, increased class size, and cut extra-curricular activities — all steps which hurt student achievement. The current Republican proposal underfunds the MAEP by $300 million.

The Senate Democrats would raise teacher pay $1000 next year, with $2000 increases each of the next two years. The Republican House has passed a $500 pay raise for teachers next year, but only if they comply with certain requirements, such as joining a committee at a civic club.

The first year cost of the program is less than $150 million, and there is more than that available in excess recurring revenue compared to proposed spending on recurring items. There is also more than $500 million in various reserve accounts.

“Democrats would move more quickly on all these fronts,” said Bryan, “but since we are in the minority, we’ve offered proposals which we believe appeal to many Republicans. If we could only vote on them by secret ballot, they would easily pass both chambers.”

Agnes is the chair of the Pearl River County Democratic Party