Palazzo named to House Appropriations Committee

While the special election to fill the 1st Congressional District is still taking shape, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo has been appointed to replace the late Alan Nunnelee on the House Appropriations Committee (HAC).

Former Sen. Trent Lott said that Mississippi has been represented on the Appropriations committee since the 1930s and that losing that position would have been a big loss to the Gulf Coast and the state. “I was just depressed that we’d lost that slot,” Lott said. “So with Palazzo going on, that’s really important — important for the district but also important for him. For those federal installations we have down there on the Coast this is really big.”

Since this powerful committee writes the bills that determine where and how tax dollars are spent, the state benefits from the representation. Senator Thad Cochran chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee where he has established a strong history of bringing federal dollars into the state. Since Mississippi is dependent upon federal aid and routinely topping the list of state budgets supported with federal dollars (42.9% of the 2013 budget was provided by the federal government), having representation on the Appropriations committees of both the House and Senate is vital.

Rep. Palazzo should benefit politically because this position greatly expands his influence beyond that of his roles on the Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Space and Technology Committees, some of which he’ll have to relinquish. With Tea Party favorite and state Sen. Chris McDaniel expressing interest in the 4th Congressional District seat, Palazzo’s new-found status should provide give him an edge in future elections.

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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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Don’t tell the GOP establishment: Mississippi is a “welfare state”

Based on a WalletHub study, Mississippi is the state most dependent upon federal funding and brings in $3.07 of federal funds for every $1 in taxes sent to Washington, DC.  Per the Tax Foundation, federal funding accounts for 45.8% of Mississippi’s revenue.

Although Mississippi is considered a “Red State,” or politically conservative, it ranks among the highest in federal dollars received per tax dollar paid.  With a political ideology that decries government hand-outs, Mississippi is “having its cake and eating it too.”

Influential leadership in Congress over the last 60 years has contributed to Mississippi’s current fiscal situation.  Sen. John C. Stennis (D) chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1969-1981 and the Senate Appropriations Committee from 1987-1989.  Former Sen. Trent Lott, even though a Republican, continued that legacy started by Stennis and rose to Senate Majority Leader before his resignation in 2007.  Likewise, Sen. Thad Cochran (R) has also done much to bring federal funds into the state and, if re-elected to a 7th term, is in line to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

The WalletHub study didn’t include just welfare payments but also included federal contracts and federal employees’ salaries.  With the benefit of over a half-century of federal dollars and jobs pouring into the state, Mississippi still ranks near the bottom in several performance measures.

According to Politico and Cottonmouth, state Sen. Chris McDaniel has even identified Mississippi as a “welfare state.”  With endless campaign ads currently touting Cochran’s ability to bring federal funds to the state, Sen. Cochran tweeted this:

Wow.  Did Cochran just undermine his entire record?  Ever wonder why our country is $17 Trillion in debt?

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