Democrats say money is available to fully fund public education
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -
Democratic lawmakers are leading a charge in hopes the state's education system will see something that's become extremely rare, full funding.
"Let's fix a broken system rather than trying to change the system," said Representative John Hinds, a Democrat from Greenville.
Since 2009, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, known as MAEP, has been under-funded by more than $960 million. $292 million of that is from the current year. Representative Cecil Brown says it doesn't have to be that way and the emphasis on the program should be the word adequate.
"If it was adequate, why are we ten, eleven or twelve percent below. That means it is inadequate," said Brown, a Democrat from Jackson.
Brown says current budget numbers show there's more than $409 million yet to be spent this year. That's money he says that could fully fund the system and still have millions left over. While he doesn't suggest funding it all at once, Brown says it can be done gradually.
"Let's begin to take some of the $409 million and let's begin to pay down some of our debt to school districts out there," said Brown.
Brown says that debt is one of the major reasons the state's education system is plagued with problems. Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran told lawmakers her school district has had a $10 million shortfall since 2009 because of under-funding. That she says has translated into cutting programs and a few teaching positions.
"Not only are we compromising the quality of our education programs in this state, we're also forcing a hindrance on economic development at the local level," said Moran.
With much of the legislative focus on new educational initiatives like charter schools, Senator David Blount says that'll mean new money on top of the obligation to fund MAEP. That he says is shifting focus from a constitutional obligation.
"We need to remember what the basic fundamental issue is and that is 100 percent of our kids who are in public schools and that is directly affected by the MAEP program," said Blount, a Democrat from Jackson.
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