Group works to get better funding for education

Published 7:00 am Thursday, June 5, 2014

INADEQUATE FUNDING: The Pearl River County School board discussed funding and a constitutional amendment initiative that would require the state provide more funding for public education.  Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

INADEQUATE FUNDING: The Pearl River County School board discussed funding and a constitutional amendment initiative that would require the state provide more funding for public education.
Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

After Pearl River County School District Business Administrator T.J. Burleson explained the budget cuts and eliminated positions due to a reduction in MAEP funding, board attorney Jim Keith discussed a new constitutional amendment initiative.

For the 2014-15 school year, the district received $89,000 less in MAEP funding than last year, said Burleson.

The reduction in funding and the increase in salary costs had the district to make difficult decisions to ensure a balanced budget.

For the last several years, Keith said MAEP has not sufficiently funded many of the school districts in the state. Due to a constitution passed in the 1950s, the state legislature has complete discretion on how much to fund public education.

Earlier this year, a group called Better Schools, Better Jobs started a constitutional amendment initiative that would require the legislature to adequately fund Mississippi’s public education, Keith said.

He said courts across the nation have interpreted adequate funding, as “whatever funding is necessary that results in students having an equal opportunity to compete with students in surrounding states.”

Keith emphasized that it is not an initiative to tax people, but instead make sure the legislature distributes existing revenue to fund public education. He said the amendment includes a clause that states if no new growth in the state occurs or other departments, the department of education would not expect additional funds.

Better Schools, Better Jobs aims to add the amendment to the ballot in 2015, but requires 107,000 petition signatures for that to happen.

If the amendment is placed on the ballot, the amount of votes in favor of it would have to be evenly distributed across the state.

Keith said this initiative can only succeed if everyone in the state, regardless of location or political ideals, works together to add the petition to the ballot.

For more information on the initiative and to get involved, visit http://www.betterms.org/.