Education funding left $265M short in House bill

Published 11:34 am Monday, February 24, 2014

An early budget proposal for school funding for the 2014-15 fiscal year would fall short by more than $4 million the expected amount received by the Vicksburg Warren School District.
The K-12 education budget, outlined in House Bill 1476, passed the House 117-0 on Thursday, but was held for the possibility of more debate before it goes before the Senate.
The proposed budget would be about $265 million short of fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — a formula put into law in 1997 that is supposed to ensure schools receive enough money. In 16 years, it has only been fully funded twice.
“We budget with (the shortfall) in mind,” said Jim Stirgus Jr., president of the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees.
Last year, the VWSD received $4.8 million less than was projected by the MAEP.
Stirgus said fully funding the MAEP would provide relief for many districts that are struggling to make ends meet.
“We wouldn’t be gasping for air to get our 7 percent,” Stirgus said in reference to a state law requiring districts have 7 percent of their total budget in reserves at the end of the year.
Districts that do not have 7 percent of their budget in the reserves — which would be about $3.8 million for VWSD — must provide a report to the Mississippi Department of Education showing how they will meet that amount.
“That’s going to have to be our challenge because at this moment I am against raising taxes on the taxpayer,” Stirgus said. “We’re watching it every day, hoping that things will change. But we’re not expecting an increase in funding.”
State Sen. Briggs Hopson III, R-Vicksburg, who also is the attorney for the VWSD Board of Trustees, said he hopes to be able to close the distance between the projected amounts and actual amounts doled out.
“I’m hoping we can work towards bridging that gap,” he said. “We have a little tug of war between that and the teacher pay raise.”
Earlier this month, the House passed a bill approving the a $4,250 pay raise for teachers over four years. If signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, is the first pay raise for teachers since 2007.
“I know that if the teacher pay raise comes through, and there’s no MAEP increase, that leaves no additional funds to administer for some of the programs they have coming this year,” Hopson said.