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Room, board fee fair for arts school’s future

Education officials, parents and others appear to have beencaught by surprise by a last minute change in the education fundingbill passed this past week and now awaiting the governor’ssignature.

The change requires students attending the state’s giftedschools to pay a small fee to help cover room and board expensesnext year. Upset by the idea, one group of parents is pushing for aveto of HB 513 in hopes of overturning the fee.

Currently, students at the Mississippi School of the Arts herein Brookhaven and the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Sciencein Columbus pay nothing to attend the two schools for giftedstudents. House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Cecil Brown toldthe Clarion-Ledger the fee is a matter of equity – questioning whythe state would pay room and board for children of parents who canpay.

The bill provides for a fee waiver for those students whoenrolled in the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program(CHIP).

The president of the parent group at MSMS, though, is leading aletter and e-mail campaign encouraging Gov. Haley Barbour to vetothe entire education bill.

“If he does not veto that bill and send it back to the House andSenate to remove section 44 (the portion of the bill that calls forthe $500 fees), it will kill these two fine schools,” PatriciaVizzini, president of the MSMS parent group, said Friday.

We can understand the burden the fee would be for some, but itis hard to agree when other public school students across the statepay for lunch at their schools while the MSA and MSMS studentsreceive room and board at no charge. The $500 per semester tuitionseems a fair price for the opportunity for gifted students to beexposed to advanced education in their areas of expertise.

With an enrollment of approximately 140, the fee would meanabout $140,000 extra per year for MSA and about $270,000 more ayear for MSMS with its enrollment of around 270 students. Those arefunds both schools could use to add or improve teaching staff.

From a provincial and self-serving standpoint, and given thelukewarm legislative support for MSA in the last few years, wethink an effort encouraging a veto of the entire education billwould be ill-advised for the arts school. While the moreestablished mathematics and science school would likely continue,the future of the Brookhaven school – which is less than 5 yearsold — could be jeopardized by increased legislative scrutiny oversomething as small as a $500 per semester room and board fee.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith sees the $500 fee as apotential positive for MSA in the future.

“We weren’t going to lose MSA with the $500 requirement. But Ithink that with this line item included, it will advance ourfunding for other areas now,” she said. “It will put us in a betterposition to get more appropriations in the future.”

Mississippi is known for its rich tradition of excellentmusicians, writers and other artists. The $500 per semester fee isa small price to pay for the opportunity for future artisans toperhaps become a part of that acclaimed assemblage.