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Barbour, lawmakers still at odds over state budget

JACKSON — The Governor’s Office met again yesterday with key budget writers as state leaders continued trying to reach an agreement on a spending plan for next fiscal year and resolve the budget issues that are about to put this year’s session into overtime.

House Education Committee chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who’s also a chief budget architect, said the Democrat-led House is opposed to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s position to cut public education by tens of millions of dollars.

He also said Barbour’s proposals keep changing. Barbour’s office now wants to cut $3.5 million from vocational programs, Brown said yesterday after the meeting.

Brown said reducing state funds for vocational education could “endanger” millions in federal matching funds. Brown said the money would be cut from K-12 programs and community colleges.

“We don’t know their rationale,” Brown said.

Lawmakers have missed a deadline to file budget bills so they’ll have to extend the session to complete work on the $5.5 billion budget. The session is scheduled to end on Saturday.

Barbour said in a statement yesterday that education is his top priority. He said his proposal would fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, an equity funding formula for elementary and secondary schools.

“While I’m proposing level funding for MAEP, I am asking that K-12 find $30 million in savings in other areas,” Barbour said.

Brown said K-12 public education has already been cut by $300 million over the last four years.

“We don’t agree with the governor that we need to devastate public education,” Brown said Monday.

Barbour said the House plan would spend $475 million in non-recurring revenue in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Brown told House members that Barbour’s proposal would use $425 million in non-recurring revenue.

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said his budget proposal cuts K-12 about 1.2 percent below current funding. Davis said the Senate plan would fully fund MAEP, but cut other areas of education that could be propped up with federal funding some districts have in reserve.

A group of former mayors and others from the Mississippi Delta region held a news conference yesterday at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to keep K-12 funding at its current level.

They said the Delta school districts, located in one of the poorest regions in the nation, are already struggling.

The South Delta School District has lost 10 teachers over the last year, said Emma Cooper Harris of Southdale Outreach Ministries, which serves Sharkey and Issaquena counties.

“It’s so critical, you can’t even cut anymore,” she said.

Source: Associated Press

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