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Department of Education makes pitch to JLBC

A quick recap of this morning’s proceedings at the Woolfolk Building as the Joint Legislative Budget Committee continues to hear budget requests from state agencies.

As expected, the presentation by interim State Superintendent of Education Dr. Daniel Jordan and Board of Education President Bill Jones drew the largest crowd yet in the JLBC’s hearing room.

The numbers: Education is asking for an increase of $173 million over FY10 funding. That figure operates on the assumption that about $160 million in federal stimulus money that was appropriated this year will be available next year. Without it, the increase would rise to roughly $330 million. Those numbers fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, whose full-funding number rose $47 million from last year, add ons like the National Board Certification teacher salary supplements and a 3 percent pay raise for all teachers.

“No one is naive about the (revenue) situation,” Jones said. “The numbers are what they are.”

“We understand these are critical times,” Jordan said.

MAEP’s total figure was broken down into two categories: $97 million that was made up of $61 million for full funding in FY11 and $36 million in the restoration of funds that were diverted from the program the past 10 years. The remaining $66 million of the program would fund teacher recruitment initiatives, the high school redesign program and the 3 percent teacher pay raise.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, asked Jones which of the two facets of MAEP held more priority — the base funding or the add ons.

“That’s like asking me which child I want to shoot,” Jones said.

“Well, you may have to,” Flaggs responded, adding he would “lay his life on the line” to ensure the $97 million base formula was fulfilled.

Several lawmakers brought up the idea of school consolidation as a means for the state to trim some of the $2.3 billion cost from the education budget. Consolidation has traditionally been a political hot potato.

“Find me two schools that want to merge with each other and we’ll do it,” Jones said.

After education presented its budget request, the hearing room held a much smaller crowd to hear Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Lester Spell asked for $9.5 million for FY11 — the exact figure his office got in FY10. Spell noted that since he took office in 1996, his staff had shrunk from 362 folks to 251, while his budget had grown from $8.5 to $9.5 million.

State money makes up about 61 percent of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s total budget, with federal money filling in the rest.

Because the JLBC was about 20 minutes late starting this morning, the Public Service Commission’s presentation was pushed to 1:15. Magnolia Marketplace will have the details as soon as they are available.

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