Lieutenant governor joins those seeking school spending bump

JACKSON

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

— As the 2015 elections approach, Republican leaders in the Mississippi Legislature appear to be reaching a consensus to spend more on K-12 education in next year’s budget — but how much money would go to the main funding formula for public schools remains unclear.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he wants to spend $110 million more on public education in 2016, including roughly $40 million needed for the second year of a teacher pay raise.

Reeves said his proposal was “not unlike” what House members discussed last week, when the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill designed to transfer roughly the same amount of money to K-12 schools next year. That money would come from a 2 percent reserve in the state budget that lawmakers are required to set aside by law. Lawmakers say they can spend the reserve because a separate rainy day savings account has been filled to its legal limit.

While House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, favors putting most money into the Mississippi Adequate Education Funding formula, Reeves was less committal. He and some other legislative Republicans have chosen in recent years to increase spending on programs outside of MAEP, meaning the amount of state aid to schools has increased little.

Lawmakers have only fully funded MAEP twice, in the election-year sessions of 2003 and 2007. They also voted for full funding in the 2008 and 2009 sessions, but midyear budget cuts during the recession kept that from happening. Since then, Mississippi has come up more than $1.5 billion short of what the formula says is necessary to meet midlevel academic standards.

Reeves also didn’t answer whether he still intended to try to rewrite the funding formula to base aid on what A- and B-rated districts spend, instead of the current practice of using C-rated districts. Reeves did say again Monday that he objects to the increasing proportion of money that districts have spent on central office administration and school principals in recent years.

Democrats, too, favor spending more money, and want it to go to the formula. They sent a letter last week calling for a $137 million increase.

Education advocates have been fiercely critical of MAEP shortfalls. Districts represented by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove sued to reverse underfunding and ask a judge to prevent it from happening again. Another put a constitutional amendment on the 2015 ballot calling for an “adequate and efficient system of public schools.” Reeves and other Republicans passed an alternative ballot measure calling for “effective” schools, reducing the chances the first proposal would pass.

 

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