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2016 February 29 - 10:39 am

Miss. Educators Leaders Seek 8 Percent Budget Increase

Community Colleges Propose $83 Million Hike in Spending

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s public schools, community colleges and universities are asking for an additional $372 million in the budget year beginning July 1, even as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson said lagging state revenue makes large increases more unlikely than ever.

Education officials made budget presentations to the House Appropriations Committee, cumulatively requesting an 8 percent increase over the $4.5 billion Mississippi is spending this year on schools from kindergarten through universities.

Lawmakers have long failed to meet funding levels that formulas call for them to give to K-12 schools and community colleges. The biggest part of the increases stems from the additional $172 million that would be needed to fully fund K-12 schools under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Lawmakers have only fully funded the formula twice, and have fallen more than $1.7 billion short of full funding over time.

This year, legislators are considering changes to the K-12 formula that could reduce the amount it calls for. For example, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has proposed calculating per-student allotment using figures from higher-performing districts that spend less. Those changes would cut the amount demanded by the formula by $80 million, according to the Department of Education.

“There are several tweaks you can do to it to give an opportunity to fully fund, but obviously at a little lower level,” said Frierson, a Poplarville Republican.

The formula was barely a footnote in state Superintendent Carey Wright’s presentation, which focused on the idea that public schools are advancing academically statewide and that lawmakers should spend more to help the state Board of Education meet its goals.

“We are making progress,” Wright said. “We are doing exactly what we want to see happen. We are headed up.”

Lawmakers have also pledged to fund Mississippi’s 15 community colleges at a per-student rate halfway between funding for K- 12 schools and universities. It would cost $129 million to raise community colleges to that level, but the colleges are only seeking half that much this year. They’re also seeking an additional $18 million to pay for building renovations and to fund a program to help high school dropouts earn an equivalency diploma and get job training, for a total increase of $83 million.

Frierson said of the three branches of education, he thought the community colleges had the strongest case for more money.

He said any new money would probably have to be shifted elsewhere in the budget, as lawmakers seek to cut ineffective spending.

Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce said Mississippi’s eight public universities are seeking an additional $67 million. Boyce said the universities would use most of that money to again raise faculty salaries. Lawmakers approved money for the universities last year that was used for that purpose.

“We need to take care of our faculty and we need the resources to do it,” Boyce said.

Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/ author/jeff-amy

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