By SHELIA BYRD
Associated Press Writer
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Parents' Campaign executive director Nancy
Loome knows the nation's economic downturn will affect lawmakers'
spending decisions on K-12 education programs, but she doesn't want
to see the ax fall on the Mississippi Adequate Education program.
MAEP is a complex budget formula designed to ensure all school
districts receive enough state money to meet midlevel accreditation
standards. It was put into state law in 1997 and phased in over
several years. It's only been fully funded three times, including
the current fiscal year.
"Last year, we weren't terribly concerned because we knew we
were going to have plenty of new money. But this year, we're
watching to see that it's not going to be threatened in any way,"
said Loome, who heads a nonprofit education advocacy group that
boasts thousands of members across the state.
The state Department of Education has estimated that full
funding of MAEP in the fiscal year that begins July 1 will cost an
extra $61 million. The Education Department also wants lawmakers to
restore $38 million in teacher supply and building maintenance
funds that had been diverted to help pay for MAEP this year.
The agency's overall budget request is $184 million more than it
received in the current fiscal year that began July 1.
In addition to MAEP, the money will go toward a 3 percent
teacher pay raise and continued work on an ambitious plan to
redesign the state's high school system, among other programs.
The 2009 Legislature convenes on Jan. 6, and Gov. Haley Barbour
and key lawmakers have said it will be a tight budget year, but
they've also made early commitments to MAEP.
"We've got a very strong commitment from a lot of different
people to the fund adequate education formula, but once we do that,
I'm not sure what's going to be left to fund other education
proposals," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee,
Barbour recently said revenue reductions for the state likely
"will go through the rest of this fiscal year and into the next
Advocates are hoping education proposals with a relatively small
price tag will fare well in the upcoming session. Among those are
the accountability components of "The Children First Act of
2009," an initiative that resulted from the legislatively created
Task Force on Underperforming Schools.
The panel spent this past year touring numerous school
districts, both successful and underperforming, to deliver
recommendations to lawmakers on how to improve schools that
State Education Superintendent Hank Bounds said a key factor in
failing schools is leadership. Bounds is asking lawmakers to give
his agency authority to remove school boards that oversee
Lawmakers approved legislation last session that allowed school
superintendents to be fired if their districts perform poorly two
consecutive years. That law is awaiting U.S. Justice Department
approval. The federal agency has to clear any laws related to
elections, and in Mississippi some superintendents are elected.
"I think it's going to help us move off the bottom in so many
categories," Bounds said of the task force's proposals. "Schools
exist to serve boys and girls, period."
Sam Bounds, president of the Mississippi Association of School
Superintendents, said MAEP funding is the group's priority, but he
also supports the accountability component.
"I believe anytime that a team of leaders are not working
directly together it affects the whole outcome. We think the bill
that has the same accountability for school boards and
superintendents will absolutely increase the productivity," said
Bounds, who's not related to Hank Bounds.
The task force's other recommendations included:
- reporting information on student achievement and finances on a
district's Web site or in a local newspaper.
- spending more money on teacher recruitment.
- state auditing of districts every four years.
- creating a Mississippi Recovery School District to oversee all
troubled districts that have been taken over by the state.
"We're very pleased that the state Board of Education wants the
authority to go in and help schools before they to these really
desperate levels," Loome said. "It's going to cost a little money
for the department to have the resources to go in and help other
schools. It doesn't cost any money to hold schools boards
accountable for the level of education they give children."