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Published in Print: June 8, 2005, as New Mississippi Budget Draws Mixed Reviews

New Mississippi Budget Draws Mixed Reviews

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Mississippi lawmakers in a special session have passed a $145 million increase in K-12 spending for the new fiscal year—more than Gov. Haley Barbour and some legislators had proposed, but not enough to improve financing substantially for many districts.

The increase, which will raise state aid about 7 percent compared with fiscal 2005, does not “fully fund” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, which was approved in 1997 to provide adequate and more equitable school financing across the state, critics of the budget said.

“We can’t say the program was fully funded, but there was a strong effort to see that school districts would have enough money to meet state mandates,” said Steve Williams, the director of the Mississippi Department of Education’s educational accountability office.

Although districts may, in general, avoid budget cuts in the coming year, spiraling health-insurance costs will mostly hold local budgets to current spending levels.

“While funding is well below the approximately 15 percent increase requested, K-12 funding for next year is more than adequate,” Gov. Barbour, a Republican, said in a statement as the special session drew to a close on May 28.

Last year, the legislature approved a $38 million increase for schools for fiscal 2005. Many districts cut their budgets based on the overall increase of less than 1 percent.

State Superintendent of Education Henry L. Johnson said in a recent interview that he was disappointed that more money was not authorized. “Better than it was,” he said of the new budget, “but not what it ought to be.”

The new K-12 education budget includes $88 million less than the $194 million increase that a bipartisan citizens group co-chaired by former Gov. William F. Winter, a Democrat, had urged earlier this year. ("Mississippi Marchers Pressure Lawmakers on K-12 Aid," Jan. 19, 2005.)

Donation Deferred

The $2.2 billion overall budget for K-12 education, given final approval in the legislature on May 28, provides 8 percent raises for teachers, completing a five-year plan to boost their salaries to the Southeast average. The raise will bring average teacher pay in the state to an estimated $41,413 a year, near the regional average.

The budget also includes $200 for each teacher to spend on classroom supplies, $300 less than Gov. Barbour had proposed but roughly double the current amount. It also preserves two years of college-loan forgiveness for teachers who work in high-need geographic areas or teach subjects for which shortages exist.

Failure to meet so-called full funding for the “adequate education” program cost the state $50 million in college scholarships pledged by former Netscape Communications executive Jim Barksdale, a Mississippi native.

Mr. Barksdale had announced in March that he would provide college money for some students enrolled in about 70 schools that take part in reading programs subsidized by the nonprofit Barksdale Reading Institute, based in Oxford, Miss.

Claiborne Barksdale, Jim Barksdale’s brother, who runs the reading institute, announced last week that the new budget was not enough to seal the deal this year.

Vol. 24, Issue 39, Page 22

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