By Bobby Harrison
for the Mississippi Business Journal
Mississippi had the 10th deepest cuts nationally in education spending since the recession hit in 2008, according to a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
According to the study released last week, Mississippi is spending $648 less per pupil, adjusted for inflation, for the current fiscal year than it did in 2008 before the recession hit. Or put another way, the state is spending 13.1 percent less, adjusted for inflation, per student.
“Mississippi students deserve an education system that will prepare them for the future,” said Sara Miller, senior policy analyst for the Mississippi Economic Policy Center. “Without full funding for public education in Mississippi, we are denying them a chance at future success.”
According to the study, Mississippi is one of at least 34 states spending less per pupil than when the recession hit in 2008.
Mississippi experienced an unprecedented drop in revenue collections during the midst of the recession. But during the past two years, the state has experienced growth of more than 5 percent.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said while the recession was a factor, “it is clear that a reduction in education spending has been a policy decision by the people in charge… You talk about mortgaging your future by not paying to educate your children.”
Bryan said a rule change passed by the Republican majority that limits the ability of a rank-and-file legislator to offer an amendment to capture unanticipated revenue for education or for any other agency makes it impossible for the full Legislature to go against the wishes of the budget leaders.
“The leadership controls everything related to the budget and is not letting money get to education,” Bryan said.
Legislative leaders say for the past two years, while revenue has been up, so has education funding, though still not to pre-recession levels.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also said education funding would be a priority again during the upcoming 2014 session.
Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Reeves, said earlier, “Funding for public education has grown $83.1 million since Lt. Gov. Reeves took office less than two years ago. He supports strengthening education programs that have proven successful.”
House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, also pointed out funding for education has increased the past two years.
He said during the recession cuts had to be made.
For the current year, education is more than $290 million less than full funding and has been underfunded about $1.3 billion since the recession hit, based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula.
In the mid 2000s, then-Gov. Haley Barbour and the then-House Democratic leadership reached an accord to phase in full funding of MAEP, which provides the state’s share of the basics for local school districts, during a three-year period.
House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, said he would discuss a phase-in, but said the MAEP formula needs to be revisited to ensure every school district is providing accurate data to draw down state funds.
Frierson said, “We can’t provide full funding in one year. But it (phase-in) is a goal worth working toward.”
Bryan predicted that during the 2015 session leaders would push a pay raise for teachers, designed, he said, to hide the fact that education has been underfunded for the past decade.
“Children need to be educated every single year, not just in an election year,” Bryan said.
» Bobby Harrison covers the capitol for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal