Arts school future rests on funding promises

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 17, 2003

Despite assurances last week by our legislative delegation thatfunding for the Mississippi School of the Arts is on track, someindividuals are raising concerns that the school’s August openingdate could be in jeopardy.

The immediate need at this point is $3.1 million in funding foroperational expenses to get the school open as planned this summer.Friday was the deadline for applicants and the first round ofon-site interviews is set for April.

The first problem occurred with the tabling of a bill that wasneeded to allow the school to purchase textbooks and othereducational supplies.

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The apparent oversight, discovered by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, wascorrected by an amendment to another bill. Without theauthorization, the students would have been without the necessarytextbooks.

The second problem came with the historic omnibus education billthat was passed a few weeks ago. While the bill directs theDepartment of Education to fund the art school, it fails to set theamount and gives room for the Department of Education to under fundthe school, which would effectively halt the opening.

At Monday’s legislative breakfast, both Sen. Hyde-Smith and Rep.Jim Barnett were optimistic that the requested funding would beforthcoming, as each had assurances from legislative leaders thatthere were no problems. Further contacts later in the day got thesame positive response, Barnett said later in the week.

However, rumors have been rampant that the funding was inquestion as there is not enough money to go around in the omnibusbill. The arts school, the rumor says, is among those areas singledout to receive the budget axe by the Department of Education.

According to both Dr. Barnett and Sen. Hyde-Smith, as ofThursday, the Senate has pledged $2 million if the House will comeup with the remaining $1.1 million. “I feel very confident, bothSen. Jack Gordon and Rep. Charlie Capps have committed to theirshare and I have had assurances from (State Superintendent) Dr.Johnson as well as the Lt. Governor,” Barnett said.

Sen. Hyde-Smith is also optimistic and was scheduled to meetwith Rep. Capps Friday morning to discuss the House funding.

In the short history of the arts school, funding concerns havebeen a regular occurrence and down-to-the-wire decisions have beenthe norm. It might be remembered that the bill to create schoolback in 1999 was dropped into the hopper as clock strucktwelve.

Meanwhile, students from around the state submitted theirapplications for admission to the arts school by Friday’s deadline.Those students’ hopes and dreams ride on promises being made inJackson this past week.