Overriding Veto, Miss. Lawmakers Increase School Aid

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Mississippi lawmakers last week overrode Gov. Kirk Fordice's veto of a bill that eventually will funnel an additional $130.5 million a year into public education.

Citing concerns about its cost, Mr. Fordice, a Republican, vetoed the proposed "Adequate Education Program" on April 10. At the same time, however, the governor called a special legislative session for April 23 to allow lawmakers to reject or uphold his veto, or approve new legislation. Subscribe to Teacher Magazine

The new law is designed to reduce funding disparities among school districts across the state, and to provide all public school children with an adequate education. ("Miss. Lawmakers Poised To Pass Overhaul of Aid Formula," March 19, 1997.)

Although Mr. Fordice proposed an amended funding plan, including a provision to require increased accountability from the state's 153 school districts, lawmakers voted narrowly in favor of the original plan. The vote was 35-15 in the Senate and 83-37 in the House, a total of just four votes more than required for the override. Democrats control both chambers.

Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat who was the bill's leading champion, called its passage "a great day for the children of Mississippi."

He said a lot of hard work went into developing an adequate and equitable funding formula.

Heath Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Fordice, said the governor strongly supports equity in school funding. But "any good steward of taxpayers' dollars would have vetoed that bill," Mr. Hall said.

The veto was Mr. Fordice's second rejection of a major education funding bill since taking office. In 1992, he vetoed a 1-cent sales-tax hike tagged for education. Legislators also overrode that veto.

Six-Year Time Line

The new program sets $2,664 per student as the minimum amount of state and local funding necessary to provide an "adequate" education. The increased state funding to achieve that level for every child will be phased in over six years, starting in July with $12 million.

Mississippi now spends $1.25 billion a year on educating its 500,000 students. After this year, state spending will increase by an additional $14 million the following year and by $26 million each in the third through sixth years.

By 2003, when the program is fully implemented, the state will provide an additional $130.5 million a year in school funding.

In the first six years, the extra funding is to be spent on school construction and reducing districts' debt levels. After 2003, districts will have more discretion in spending the money, except for state limits on construction and renovation expenditures.

The program will be paid for out of the state's general revenues, which have climbed recently with the boom in the state's gaming industry, and from the state's education enhancement fund, created in 1991 to pay for buildings, school buses, and supplies.

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