Friday, February 25, 2011
Mississippi public-education advocates fear that the state Senate may short-change school districts next year by $65 million. On the Senate agenda is a House education-funding bill approved last week; however . Gov. Haley Barbour has urged legislators to adopt the lower funding amount, describing it as "level funding." Data from the Mississippi Department of Education show that Barbour's claim is inaccurate, however.
Appropriations Committee member Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said that leaders in the Republican-dominated Senate have signaled their intention to reduce the funding in House Bill 1494 for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program--the state's primary means of funding low-income school districts.
"There's concern, based on information provided by the Senate leadership, that when the House bill comes up in (the Senate Appropriations) committee, the leadership will propose spending less on MAEP--$65 million less," Blount said.
In his November 2010 budget proposal and in a February 2011 letter to legislators, Barbour claimed that school districts will have an extra $65 million in federal funds for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, thanks to a bill passed by the U.S. Congress in August 2010. That bill, the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, allotted MDE $95.9 million for school districts to spend on personnel.
Barbour's November budget proposal referred to "$65 million of unspent education dollars that will be available to school districts in FY 2012." Nancy Loome, executive director of public-education advocacy group The Parents' Campaign, said that Barbour's figure is misleading.
"It's a completely arbitrary number," Loome said. "It doesn't have anything to do with what amount was appropriated or what was there at a given time. It was just a guess, which has become this $65 million pot of money, which people think is out there. But it's not."
In fact, data from MDE show that only $43.3 million of the federal education jobs money remains unspent at this time. Spending varies widely by district, too. Districts in Natchez, DeSoto County and Madison County have already spent their entire allocation. Jackson Public Schools and Hinds County Public Schools have not spent any of their funds.
"They just guessed that maybe $65 million will be left there," Loome said. "More than that has already been drawn down. School districts could very well draw down every dime of it before the end of (the fiscal year)."
Loome said that she hopes to see the Senate adopt a funding level not significantly lower than the one approved by the House. Blount said that he, too, agrees with the House proposal in this case.
"I intend to raise this issue in the committee," Blount said.
Great article. Haley Barbour wants to misappropriate Federal funds. He did this on the coast with $600 Million of HUD money and steered it to the port. This should be addressed come election season, we need more education dollars in this State, not less.
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