Plight of students, teachers should not be lost

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 18, 2006

If funding of Mississippi schools was not frustrating enough,now come events of the past week adding more fuel to the educationfunding debate fire.

Let’s see if we can make some sense of it all.

A few weeks ago state education officials presented their 2007budget request, which asked for $158.5 million additional funds.The request allows for full funding, as required by law, for theMississippi Adequate Education Plan. MAEP is a formula-based planwhich is designed to help balance funding between school districts.Although required by law, only once have Mississippi schoolsreceived full funding.

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Shortly afterwards, Governor Haley Barbour’s office presentedits plan. While Barbour’s plan increased school funding over lastyear by $159 million, it came $84 million short of the MAEPgoal.

And thus are the lines currently drawn in the sand.

On Wednesday, House and Senate leaders reached an impasse on the2007 budget talks due to the differences between the two plans.After hours of discussion, some raised voices and finger pointing,no agreement was reached. So for the first time in anyone’s memory,the next Legislative session will begin in a few weeks without apreliminary budget.

Then comes an announcement Thursday by state education officialsthat they had miscalculated the MAEP formula and were decreasingtheir request by $34 million. They blamed Hurricane Katrina relieffunds for skewing the original calculations.

The budget revision has added new fuel to the fire, sparking yetanother round of finger pointing – such is the situation ofelection year politics. Caught in the middle, as always, are theschool kids and their parents whose hopes and dreams are for aquality education for their children.

By the end of March, the debate should be complete as the lastday of the month is the deadline for all spending to be approved.In the meantime, the education funding debate will rage on and onand on as it has for years.

One thing we all should remember as numbers are batted aroundand fingers are pointed during the next few months is that,nationally, Mississippi still ranks near the bottom in both teachersalaries and school spending per student.