The cost of education in Mississippi

The federal government provides $800 Million of Mississippi’s $3.3 Billion education budget.  The Daily Journal asserts that “Cutting federal school funding [is] not realistic” and then challenges the reader to “Imagine what the impact would be if 25 percent of the money coming into Mississippi’s public schools suddenly disappeared.”

Challenge accepted.

With 492,586 students enrolled in public schools according to the Mississippi Department of Education, the state spends an average of $6,699 per student per year.  For comparison, annual tuition rates for some Gulf Coast private schools were sampled, albeit not scientifically.  The amounts below include tuition, registration, and other mandatory fees that could be identified on the respective institutions’ public websites:

As it turns out, private school cost is less than public school funding.  Are the buses, school lunches, superintendents, school boards, a Board of Education and State Superintendent, and annual fights over teacher pay and MAEP adding value commensurate with cost?  Probably not.  Even though private school teachers are typically paid less than their public school counterparts, private school parents still find “value” in sending their children to them.  Quality education is not so closely linked to teacher pay as the NEA, AFT, Mississippi Legislature, and others would have us believe.  But I digress.

Back to the original challenge:  What would be the impact to Mississippi schools without the federal subsidy?  Answer:  Mississippi would still have enough funding to send each student to a private school.  Less the $800 Million, the amount per student ($5,075 per year) is almost enough to send a student to any private school on the list and more than enough with multi-child or “participating member” discounts offered by every private school.  Yet The Parents’ Campaign and Better Schools, Better Jobs demand more funding to meet the levels prescribed under MAEP as if funding is one of the most critical items for improving  the quality of education.

Mississippi can do better and increased funding is not a panacea.  Washington, DC spends nearly $30,000 per student and is ranked only 0.5% ahead of Mississippi in Education Weeks’ Education Counts report!  In fact, the Cato Institute found that “this spending figure is about triple what the DC voucher program spends per pupil—and the voucher students have a much higher graduation rate and perform as well or better academically.”

Imagine this:  Parents send their children to private schools effectively sacrificing their “entitlement” to $6,699 per student while spending another +/-$5,000 per student to do so.  By “voting with their dollars,” these parents demonstrate the increased value of the private schools they send their children to.  An education voucher system would allow all Mississippians to have that same opportunity, rich or poor.  A means adjusted voucher system could even save the state money while still providing better education value to the most needy students.

While the state can’t be weaned off federal funding overnight, getting the politics, bureaucracy, and overhead of the federal government out of education would be helpful to Mississippi and our country.  Returning education to local control, local oversight, local responsibility and exposing it to competition would be even better.

Being a net taker of federal “welfare” has yet to help Mississippi.  An education system that adds value will.

Imagine that.

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Will ‘Better Schools, Better Jobs’ Amendment help Miss. schools?

“Better Schools, Better Jobs” is seeking a constitutional amendment to require the Mississippi Legislature to fully fund public education according to the MAEP formula.  If 107,000 registered voters sign their petition by April 2015, the initiative will go on the ballot for voters to decide.

Adopted in 1997, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is a formula that determines total district funding.  Of the $6 Billion state budget, education consumes $2.4 Billion and is receiving an $85 Million dollar increase in 2015.  Fully funding MAEP would require 10-15% more funding.  Per The Parents’ Campaign, that increase would have resulted in $2.54M, $7.67M, and $5.23M more for Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties, respectively.

While fully funding education sounds like a good thing, there are several important considerations:

  1. Local governments are responsible for up to 27% of the MAEP formula.  Local officials can always vote to increase the local contribution to their city and county’s schools. 
  2. If you send your children to private school, fully funding MAEP is equivalent to a tax increase.  While an actual tax increase may not happen, under the proposed amendment more state tax dollars would be directed away from state services you use to a state service (public school) that you don’t.  Education vouchers would change that calculus but the state legislature rejected such an option for just 500 special needs students during the 2014 session.
  3. The Mississippi Brain Drain Commission reports that the state is a net exporter of college graduates.  While MAEP does not fund college and university education, state universities are primarily filled with state students.  Therefore state tax dollars are ultimately subsidizing other states’ economies.  Improving Mississippi’s economy and job opportunities (and thereby the state and local tax base) is a better way to improve school funding.

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