The Daily Journal summarizes state’s 2014 legislative session

Bobby Harrison of the Daily Journal runs down the significant events of the 2014 legislative session with a two-part series:

  1. Teacher pay, justice reform biggest achievements
  2. School districts still in budget hole

In his first story, Harrison provides a recap of the following issues that the legislature tackled during the session:

  • Teacher Pay:  Initially promoted by Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), the bill provides $2,500 pay raise over 2 years.  The senate finalized the language which, under Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ leadership cut out performance requirements.
  • Criminal Justice Reform:  Sweeping reforms resulting from recommendations of judges, prosecutors, district attorneys, law enforcement and local officials.  Estimated to save $266 Million over 10-years.
  • Special Needs Payments:  Promoted by Sen. Nancy Collins (R-Tupelo), the proposal failed largely due to objections over giving “education vouchers.”
  • Religious Freedom:  Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed even after firestorm in Arizona.  Legislation changed to prevent the government from being able to force someone to take action against their religious beliefs.
  • Bonds:  $199.9 Million in new bonds were approved for Cooper Tire in Tupelo, a Tammy Wynette Museum in Tremont, the William Faulkner/Union Heritage Museum in New Albany, and renovations to Okolona College.
  • Texting:  After looking like ban on texting while driving would pass, Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson) entered a motion to reconsider which effectively killed the bill since efforts to table the motion were defeated.
  • Medicaid Expansion:  Republican leadership continues to oppose medicare expansion.  Both the House and the Senate rejected federal funds to expand Medicaid as is allowed under Obamacare (to cover those earning 138% of the federal poverty level).
  • Judges, Law Enforcement:  Added 16 assistant district attorneys, 50 new Highway Patrol troopers, added funds for the state Crime Lab.

The second story focuses on the budget.  According to Harrison, the $2.4 Billion public education budget was an increase of $85 Million over the previous year.  The current education budget is $255 Million short of the funding formula based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

In all, the 2014 $6 Billion general fund budget was an increase of about $200 Million over 2013.

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Gov. Bryant urges education vouchers (for special education)

Gov. Bryant is encouraging the Mississippi House of Representatives to approve House Bill 765, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.  Since special needs students trail all other students in graduation rates, HB 765 would provide education vouchers for those students under certain circumstances so the parents could choose the best location and type of education to meet their children’s unique needs.

If enacted, the program would fund qualified special education students at the MAEP base student cost plus a share of costs for special programs required by that student.

Passed in 1997 by the Democrat-controlled state legislature, Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is a formula that produces the base student cost to provide each student an “adequate education” in Mississippi.  Each district must provide up to 27% of that base cost through local revenues with the state funding the difference.

The Republicans now controlling the legislature have not funded education to the MAEP standard by $1.2 Billion since 2008–a point which the Democrats attempt to use against them.  In the current budget talks, the MAEP formula is underfunded by over $200 Million for 2015.

Back to vouchers. . . If education vouchers are good for special needs students, wouldn’t they be good for all students?

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