Thursday, February 17, 2011
Mississippi Parent's Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome praised a school funding bill the House passed yesterday, which she says adequately funds the state's K-12 education system.
"The funding in HB1494 is approximately $25.5 million above the Legislative budget recommendation, largely due to $16.3 million to cover an increase in the cost of state retirement," Loome said, adding that the bill also provides "level" funding for the state's Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a formula the state uses to direct state funds to low-income school districts to cover shortfalls in local taxes. MAEP funding typically aides the state's many rural districts.
The $3 billion bill, which passed the House with a clear majority, provides $1.8 billion to MAEP, which Loome said was the same level of MAEP funding the state set for the program last year. Still, she said the bill ultimately underfunds MAEP by about $232 million because it does not reach the Mississippi Department of Education's stated "adequate" funding level of more than $2 billion.
Only 14 representatives voted against the bill, and all were Republican.
Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said he opposed the bill simply because he is voting against all general appropriation bills in protest of the House system for allocating funds. Snowden complained that he could not recall a time when the Mississippi House had an accurate picture of the state budget before it began allotting money in the first half of the Legislative session. He said only a handful of people in the entire Legislature actually have a full view of the state's financial situation.
"I voted against every appropriation bill, every single one," Snowden defiantly told the Jackson Free Press today, adding that he also voted against the Arts Commission budget appropriation, despite his strong support of the commission.
"The best I can tell at this point, the Senate and the House are perhaps as much as $139 million apart in the amount of money that is proposed to be spent in fiscal year 2012. I thought we had an agreement (with) the Legislative Budget Office agreement from last October or November, but ... both sides apparently did not consider it a hard agreement," he said.
Snowden cited as example the fact that the House and Senate have yet to agree on the appropriations of $65 million in federal money slated for state education, which could go to help fund MAEP or other education programs. Snowden's concern reflects a Feb. 3 statement from Gov. Haley Barbour who said that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee budget recommendation "does not reflect the $65 million in federal Education Jobs Funds in a manner consistent with previous handling of such ... funds."
Last August Congress approved the Federal Education Jobs Act, which is designed to help schools counter the continuing national recession by appropriating money to allow districts to rehire teachers or prevent teacher layoffs. Barbour argued in a letter to legislative leaders early this month that by refusing to balance the $65 million federal funds with $65 million in cuts, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee essentially "increases total funds to K-12 by $65 million and increases state spending by $65 million."
Barbour asked lawmakers to fund MAEP at $65 million below the funding level recommended by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, but education lobbying group The Parent's Campaign argues that counting the $65 million in federal funds as state funds "constitutes supplanting," which would violate the federal regulations for receiving the money from the federal government.
"Gov. Barbour says that the federal Education Jobs funds should be treated like federal stabilization funds," Loome said in a February statement. "The two are very different, and the federal regulations that define how the funds can be used are very different."
House Speaker Bill McCoy echoed The Parents' Campaign opinion today with a letter to Barbour in response to the governor's Feb. 3 letter.
"These 'second stimulus funds' are in no way similar to (stimulus) funds you cite in your memorandum and which the state received earlier. They are awarded to the school districts, not the state. The state has no control over when or how they are spent," McCoy stated.
Thanks to you for the hard work you have done on this bill. Having it pass in the House is GREAT NEWS! I know how difficult it is trying to work on issues of this importance, yet, having the Governor and others who support his strange and punitive ways of thinking work against positive positions. We must continue to stand together and work on our educational system. Just as it takes billions/week to finance wars, it also takes millions to finance education. Our children deserve the best possible opportunity to receive quality teaching from quality teachers and in the best possible learning environment. Thanks!