HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When it comes to education, Mississippi has consistently ranked in the bottom among the 50 states through the years. According to a 2018 U.S. News Report, Mississippi currently sits at 46. Neighboring states including Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana rank in the bottom half while Tennessee is ahead significantly at 28.
“On one hand, we definitely have people in our system trying to do what they need to do with the little resources they have,” said retired educator Delories Williams. “But, we have a lot of work to do with regard to making sure that our educational system does what it’s supposed to do, which is to equip our children to compete in this global economy.”
In 1997, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program was created to ensure that every child in the state receives a quality education whether they live in a wealthy or poor community. However, in over 20 years, it’s only been fully funded twice.
“The state, however, in my opinion, has not made education a priority not only in this particular instance, but historically has not made it a priority,” said Rep. Jeramey Anderson. “Instead, it’s decreased funding several years, failed to fully fund things and have put other things above education as far as tax breaks and what have you.”
Funding from the program go toward teacher and other district employee salaries, textbooks and instructional materials, basic operation costs, transportation, special education, vocational education, gifted and alternative education. However, Sen. Joey Fillingane believes MAEP could use a makeover.
“Anything that’s that old in education, which is quickly moving and changing as education is in our country, needs to be updated,” he said.
Fillingane says that lawmakers hope to change the education formula soon.
“We want every child to get a quality education regardless of where she or he resides,” said Fillingane. “I mean it shouldn’t matter what zip code you were born in--- that should not determine your educational opportunities or success.”
“I do feel like people (students) from other states would receive more education than I would, because their state gives them more money for education and I feel like that provides them more opportunities and they’re exposed to a lot more things like top of the line technologies that I’m not exposed to,” Echols said.
Echols attends Purvis Middle School where she says teachers like Meg Stewart make a difference in her education. For over 20 years, Stewart has poured into her students.
“Statistics show that Mississippi has made great strides in education especially in our Pre-K programs,” Stewart said. “But, Mississippi is still falling behind the majority of other states (and) to change this everyone involved must get on board--- parents, lawmakers and school districts to make education a top priority.”
A recent study based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, showed that high school seniors in Mississippi received roughly $33, 000 less in state funding compared to the national average over the course of their public education in a 12-year-period. In comparison to neighboring states, Louisiana spends about $5, 000, Arkansas spends about $18, 000, Alabama spends about $23, 000 and Tennessee spends about $31, 000 less.
“Do we spend enough money on education?,” said Fillingane. “No, clearly not. Mississippi is the poor state in the union of the fifty states, which is unfortunate. But, it’s true and as a result we have a finite number of dollars that we get to spend on roads, education, police…”
Except for Alabama, the education systems of those states profit from the state lottery and that’s something Mississippi hopes to do with the passing of the Alyce G. Clarke Lottery Bill on Aug. 28 during a legislative special session. Mississippi remains one of six states without a lottery.
For years, Rep. Alyce G. Clarke fought to get a lottery in the state and now, she’ll get to see one. Clarke supported the bill, because of the funds that could be used for improving education.
“It’s just because we haven’t had enough people who were really, really crazy about doing things for education,” said Clarke about lawmakers pushing for the lottery as a source for education dollars.
But, now Clarke hopes residents will buy their lottery tickets in Mississippi to help the cause.
“The way we go across the river to play the other lotteries, if we go over here half as often as we go over there we will be in good shape,” said Clarke. “We will do good and our educational system will do much better.”
In Tennessee, 42.2 cents of every dollar spent on the Powerball go toward education programs. But, allocation for funding in Mississippi from the lottery will be different. Infrastructures will be the priority with $80 million spent on roads and bridges. The remaining funds will go toward the education enhancement fund, which concerns Stewart.
“I understand that infrastructure in Mississippi is extremely important,” she said. “But, lawmakers and school districts need to realize that the future of Mississippi is sitting in our classrooms today.”
Lawmakers expect the lottery to generate $40 million in the first year and eventually raise more than $100 million. After 10 years, monies will go directly into the general fund. It’s expected to take six months to get the lottery up and running.
Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the Alyce G. Clarke Lottery Bill in the coming days. He has a deadline for mid-September. But, for Williams, the lottery raises more questions than answers in Mississippi’s journey to measure up to the national average when it comes to education.
“So, while it sounds good that this money will be earmarked for education, the truth of the matter is, yes, they’ve said that the infrastructure will be the priority,” said Williams. “So, to me that translates to leftovers. So, when are we going to make education priority.?”