BILOXI — State education leaders said at a Mississippi Municipal League school funding forum that when the state doesn’t fully fund schools, the bill winds up being the problem of local governments.
State Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said people are “sick of hearing we don’t have the money to fully fund education,” adding that next year schools will be shorted $257 million in state funding.
Brown said there are funds available to “chip away” at the education shortfall. He said by the end of this fiscal year the state will have a $480 million surplus.
“At a time when we’re severely underfunding education, that makes no sense,” Browns said.
Brown said the Legislature approved $62 million for teacher pay raises this year, but allocated no money for other school district employees — janitors, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers and others.
Madison County school superintendent Ronnie McGehee was blunt in his assessment of the need for quality education.
“Education is a pay-me-now or pay-me-later proposition,” McGehee said. “You either invest in education now or you’ll pay for it later. Educate or incarcerate. You either educate them or you’ll end up incarcerating them.”
Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran, who moderated the panel, said the Legislature has not fully funded Mississippi Adequate Education Program since 2008. In the time since, schools statewide were shorted some $1.5 billion in funding which could have provided an additional 5,423 classroom teachers, according to the Mississippi Association of Educators.
“In my city of Ocean Springs, our school district has been shorted more than $16 million,” Moran said.
To address such shortfalls, Moran said her city and others, to lessen the burden, forgo their own projects.
“That means deferred maintenance, it means poor road repair. When the legislature underfunds education, it simply shifts the financial burden,” Moran said.
The MML held its annual meeting this week in Biloxi.