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Great Expectations

Public education trumps party politics

In 1964, the year I began my career in education, the Minimum Foundation Funding for Mississippi’s public schools provided a beginning annual salary of $3,300 for teachers having a degree and class A certification.

Many of our teachers were without a degree and teaching under the old B certification. Little money was available from the state to purchase teaching supplies and materials. Though we were near the bottom in our spending of money for public education, we were near the top in terms of effort.

At one time in our history, we spent a larger percentage of our state budget on public education than any other state in the union. As a young Mississippi teacher, I was defensive of our educational system and often pointed out this fact to persons in other states who belittled our public schools.

We still spend a large proportion of our general fund on education. However, many of the state’s expenditures are not included in the general fund. They are special departments having separate budgets. Our commitment to funding public education has lessened in terms of our effort.

Missed out

We have missed two very important opportunities to create a special budget for education.
Both the legalization of liquor and casino gambling were promoted to fund public education. Neither would have been supported by the public had they not believed that the additional revenue would benefit the public schools. Each time the additional revenue was dumped into the general fund and much of it found its way into other programs.
Educational funding is usually the last to be funded during the legislative session. We wait to see how much money is available after other departments and programs are funded.

Education and training vital

There is no question that the wealth of this nation is due, in large part, to our ability to educate our general population. The last data I read on Mississippi education showed that more than 90% of our children depended on public education.

If we are to compete in a global economy, education and training of our youth is imperative. We know that we cannot compete in the cheap labor market and a disturbing trend is that the jobs being created pay an average of $8,000 less than those lost in recent years.

An alarming study showed that older Americans are more educated than persons in their age group in the 30 leading industrial countries of the world. This same study ranks us as No. 5 in the 35 to 45 age group and No. 10 in the 25 to 34 group. If this declining trend continues, we will not be able to compete in the global economy.

Key to prosperity and quality of life

Republican Jack Reed and former governor William Winter are two visionaries who understand that education is the key to our state’s prosperity and life quality. They are touring the state promoting the funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

Last year, the MAEP was under funded by $79 million. An added benefit to our state, by establishing MAEP, has been that we are one of the few states in the union who are not dealing with lawsuits related to inequities in school district funding.

Our future is dependent on a strong public educational system. This is not a partisan issue.

And please note that the meager federal tax credit allowing classroom teachers to take up to $250 in deductions for money they spend on classroom supplies has been eliminated.

This means that a classroom teacher, in the 15% tax bracket, will no longer pay $37.50 less in tax for having spent $250 on her teaching supplies.

What kind of message are we sending teachers? That’s another column I suppose.

Archie King, LPC, is a human resources consultant who lives in Madison. His column appears from time to time in the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at
archie.king@worldnet.att.net
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