“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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Bobby Harrison of the Daily Journal runs down the significant events of the 2014 legislative session with a two-part series:
- Teacher pay, justice reform biggest achievements
- 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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In the Clarion-Ledger report, “Analysis: Legislative leaders earn marks, from A+ to D,” Geoff Pender gives his report card on state politicians Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn, Senate minority leader Hob Bryan, and House minority Leader Bobby Moak. While subjective and his opinion, it provides background information on our state’s highest elected officials.
Gov. Phil Bryant appeared on the Paul Gallo Show on April 7th and discussed some priorities during his tenure and a range of legislative accomplishments during the 2014 session. The entire interview is available free from SuperTalk Mississippi.
Regarding some of the successes during his tenure:
- Teen pregnancy: Noted a 10.3% reduction in teen pregnancy over the past year without passing out birth control in classrooms.
- TANF Drug Screening: Signed legislation this year requiring new applicants to be screened from drug use/abuse prior to receiving benefits.
- 2nd Amendment Protections & Sales Tax Holiday: Passed a sales tax holiday for guns, ammo, and related supplies for September 5th – 7th.
- Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Gov. Bryant said the state law mirrors federal law that was written by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and signed by Pres. Bill Clinton.
- Criminal Justice Reform Bill
- Banning Abortion at 20 weeks: “A huge pro-life victory in Mississippi.”
Gov. Bryan talked at length about his biggest disappointment of the session, the failure to pass the special needs education bill (HB 765). Saying it’s a “sorry day” and a “dark day” because public educators refused to release the funding to support 500 special needs children, he says the legislature turned their back on special needs children and he vows to make this a priority “from now on.”
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When the Mississippi legislature adjourned April 2nd, it adjourned sine die which in parliamentary speech means that there is no appointed time for a future meeting (in other words, the legislative session is ended). The Latin phrase is pronounced “sī-ni-ˈdī.”
The sudden and frustrating finish (at least to the House) inspired Chris Davis, News Mississippi News Director, to write the parody, “Sign or Die” which was featured on the Paul Gallo Show April 3rd. Listen to the ditty via Paul Gallo’s twitter feed:
House Bill 484, a ban on texting while driving, died on the Miss. House floor last night after Speaker Philip Gunn adjourned the 2014 session.
Rep. Bill Denny (R-64) made a move to reconsider the bill late last night which apparently prevented the bill from being voted upon before the session ended. Rep. Tom Miles (D-75) blamed Denny for single-handedly killing the bill at the last hour.
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