Public schools to ask for $320M increase to 2014 budget

JACKSON — Mississippi’s public school system will seek an additional $320 million for the 2014 budget year, according to figures released yesterday.

Each year, the state Board of Education must compute the amount called for under the state’s kindergarten through grade 12 funding formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Under the 1997 law that created MAEP, that’s the amount the school board must ask lawmakers to provide.

Most years, lawmakers don’t allot what MAEP calls for. It’s been fully funded only twice since it took full effect in 2002.

In the 2013 budget year, which began July 1, schools received $2.035 billion. That’s $19 million more than in 2012, but $251 million less than the formula demanded.

In 2014, the MAEP formula calls for $2.356 billion. This year’s appropriation would have to rise 16 percent, or $321 million, to hit the target.

School officials doubt they’ll get that much. “I don’t think there’s going to be sufficient revenue,” said Todd Ivey, chief financial manager for the Mississippi Department of Education.

Tax revenue has been rising, but House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said it’s too early to tell what the state will be able to afford next year.

The Legislature appropriated $500,000 to study the funding formula this year. Frierson said he hoped the study would be available in the next two months.

Getting the full amount would allow the state to fully fund teacher supplies, which was $18.7 million short this year, forcing most teachers to spend their own money to buy classroom items. It also would allow the state to fund $20 million for school construction projects. Both those amounts were diverted into the main funding formula this year.

State Board of Education member Bill Jones of Petal said it’s unfair for lawmakers to claim traditional public schools are failing and try to set up charter schools as alternatives when public schools aren’t getting the money the law requires

“They have historically, consistently, underfunded public schools in this state,” Jones said. “Then when these schools fail, they think the solution is charter schools.”

The state board is likely to vote Friday to ask lawmakers for a small pot of money for special projects.

That would include $2.5 million to help fund preschool programs. Though the department has called for more effort on early childhood education previously, it hasn’t specifically asked for money to run its own program. Unlike most states, Mississippi spends no money on a state-run pre-kindergarten program. State and local agencies do administer other programs that are mostly federally funded.

“We’re the only state in the Southeast that provides no early childhood education funding at all,” Jones said. “It’s getting embarrassing.”

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