Concerned lawmakers predict MSA’s survival

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Lawmakers, facing a large state deficit, will consider closingthe Mississippi School of the Arts and the Mississippi School forMathematics and Science in Columbus when they open their sessionTuesday.

With a budget deficit and spending gap approaching $1 billion,area lawmakers say they are concerned about MSA but believe theschool will survive the budget process – although perhaps not inits current form.

“Some changes may have to be made, but I think it will(survive),” said District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett. “There areplaces in state government where we can cut costs.”

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District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak agreed, adding that he expected itto be a contentious issue.

“I think we have to much of an investment into the facility nowto let it go,” he said. “I think it will make it, but I also thinkwe’ll have a rough time with it.”

Moak said most of the state funding for the school comes throughthe Ways and Means Committee, of which he is a member, and heintends to fully support the school.

“I’ve supported this school since its first inception, and I’llcontinue to do so,” he said.

Barnett also pledged his full support.

“The state is in a desperate financial situation, but I will doeverything I can to save those schools,” he said.

Both legislators, however, admitted some changes are likely instore for the school. They predicted the school would survive thesession by conceding to some kind of alternative funding. A slidingtuition based on income is most likely, they said.

“I can foresee some sort of income-based tuition,” Moak said.”That is always a possibility. That, certainly, will be up fordiscussion and talked about.”

Moak said he would oppose any proposals that would fund theschool entirely through tuition.

“I don’t want to see the school become restricted to only thestudents who could afford to go there,” he said.

However, a tuition scale based on income would be a compromisehe could live with, he said.

“It would be a small price to pay to keep the facility there,”Moak said.

Barnett agreed that a tuition formula would be acceptable.

“I would not be opposed to that, provided it’s on sliding scalebased on income,” he said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, whosecommittee is responsible for spending bills, has always supportedMSA and MSMS but told a Jackson newspaper for its Monday editionsthat nothing is sacred.

Stringer also was quoted as saying most states don’t have artsand math schools.

Barnett said that was not true.

“Most every state in the nation, and certainly the South, has aschool for the arts,” he said, quickly naming schools in severalSouthern states.

When lawmakers convene Tuesday in Jackson, they will beconfronted with many uncomfortable decisions.

Medicaid alone has a deficit of $268 million that must be fundedbefore the fiscal year ends June 30. Then, for the next fiscalyear, lawmakers must settle at least $600 million in spendingrequests that exceed available funding. The current state budget is$3.7 billion.

MSA and MSMS are seeking a combined $7.6 million in the nextfiscal year.