The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for pre- collegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Magnolia State Sees
Retreat on School Aid
Mississippians hoping for a second straight year of record-breaking increases in school funding were sorely disappointed with this year’s legislative session.
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The Democratic-controlled legislature raised spending in the fiscal 2005 budget for K-12 education by about $38 million, or nearly 1 percent, over last year’s $2 billion budget. The tiny increase could spell trouble for some school districts. Lawmakers boosted the state’s main source of education funding, called the Mississippi Adequate Education program, by about $77 million. But they gained the extra money by cutting from supplemental education programs, said Judy Rhodes, the director of educational accountability for the Mississippi Department of Education.
For instance, funding was cut for classroom supplies from $15.9 million in the current fiscal year to $3.5 million next year. Teachers will receive about $100 for supplies, down from the previous $500, state officials said.
“It’s going to be very touch-and-go in some places,” added Ms. Rhodes, who predicted some districts also will leave jobs open and cut other programs in the coming year.
Roughly $30 million in new health-care costs also will be absorbed by districts, which in turn will have to cut services, drain reserves, or raise local taxes to handle the increase, Ms. Rhodes warned.
Newly elected Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, had cautioned that the state budget would be tight. He said publicly that school districts should consider any money they hadn’t used from last year’s $142 million rise in K-12 funding to make up for this year’s modest increase.
Before their session adjourned May 9, legislators also passed the next installment of the state’s six-year teacher-pay increase. Teachers will see an average raise of about 8 percent, bringing the average salary to about $38,000. Districts will have to pay about half of the $92 million needed for the pay increase.
The state will keep its $6,000 annual bonuses for nationally certified teachers and counselors, and will add the same bonuses for 20 nationally certified school nurses. Lawmakers renewed $5 million in incentives for teachers who agree to work in poor areas.
Schools Spared More Cuts;
Lawmakers Shun Sanford
For public schools in the Palmetto State, the legislative session that ended June 3 might have been much worse. Then again, it might have been much better.
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In fiscal 2005, K-12 schools will see an increase of $145 million over the fiscal 2004 K-12 budget of $2.4 billion education budget, which was cut by $31 million during the 2003-04 school year.
Total K-12 spending in the coming fiscal year will rise by 6 percent, to about $2.6 billion, the state’s first increase since fiscal 2003, said John Cooley, the budget director for the South Carolina Department of Education.
School finance is a topic of heated political debate in the state.
Advocates of increased school funding often cite statistics that show the state spends only $1,852 on each student, even though state law requires $2,234. But those figures reflect only the state’s basic school aid, and legislative statistics show that additional funding sources increase per-student aid to roughly $4,316.
The state is defending itself in court this summer against rural parents and school districts that filed a lawsuit more than a decade ago, demanding more money to improve schools in poor areas.
Gov. Mark Sanford’s political troubles kept several education bills from passing, even though his own party controls both chambers of the legislature. The Republican, illustrating the differences between his agenda to cut state spending and the size of government with lawmakers’ attention to local demands, saw his plan to provide tax credits for private school tuition fail. His proposal to phase in state income-tax reductions also failed.
After Gov. Sanford issued 106 vetoes this year, the legislature approved 105 overrides in a single day. The governor, contending that state spending would force an illegal deficit, responded by carrying two pigs he named “Pork” and “Barrel” into the legislative chambers. The stunt enraged many lawmakers.
The new budget includes a 2 percent raise in state teacher salaries, which districts can supplement. Lawmakers avoided cuts this year in state incentives for nationally certified teachers.
A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2004 edition of Education Week as Capital Recap