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Mississippi Legislators Approve 7% Increase in Spending

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State aid to precollegiate education in Mississippi will increase nearly 7 percent during the 1988 fiscal year in a budget approved earlier this month by state lawmakers.

The K-12 budget will be $746 million, a $48.5-million increase over last year's $697.5 million appropriation.

The figure is $8 million more than the state's fiscal-management board recommended earlier this year. The state's total budget for fiscal 1988 will be $1.6 billion.

Money for Merit Pay

Approximately $24 million will be spent on $1,000 merit-pay increases for teachers. About 98 percent of the state's teachers will qualify for the raises as a result of having passed a merit-pay evaluation last year.

Despite the increase, said Jerry Caruthers, a spokesman for the Mississippi Association of Educators, the average state funding for teacher salaries in the upcoming fiscal year, $19,500, will still be inadequate.

"We don't believe that it is nearly enough to attract and retain qualified teachers,'' he said. "But considering the financial condition of the state, we're satisfied.''

School-Attendance Age

The legislature also voted to raise the compulsory school-attendance age from 13 to 16; the revision will take effect during the 1989-90 school year.

In addition, lawmakers agreed to reappropriate $40 million for the state's mandatory-kindergarten program, which was established during the 1982 legislative session and which went into effect last year.

However, the program did not receive money through the state's basic-aid program for schools, which would have entitled kindergarten students to state-financed transportation to school.

Also under the new budget, schools will receive $12.5 million for textbook purchases.

Last year, only $4 million was earmarked for books, which was $4 million less than was appropriated two years ago.

Bond Adjustment Rejected

The legislature rejected a proposal that would have lowered the percentage of voters needed to pass a school-bond issue.

Currently, 60 percent of a district's voters must approve a bond issue.

Opponents of the law have argued that the percentage is too high in school districts with predominantly black enrollments and a large white electorate.

Lawmakers also made no change in a rule that allows local school superintendents to be elected, instead of appointed. Of the state's 154 distict superintendents, 66 are elected.

The legislature also gave the state board of education more flexibility in setting the grades in which mandatory statewide tests are administered to students. Currently, students are tested in the 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 11th grades.

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