30 Mar Educators Protest School Funding Cuts (MS)

March 30, 2011

By: J.B. Clark
Source: Desoto Times-Tibune

JACKSON – Mississippi Senate and House budget writers are still in a deadlock after the House’s last minute budget proposal didn’t receive Senate support Saturday night.

"They didn’t come off of anything new," said Senate Appropriations Chair Doug Davis, R-Hernando. "They reduced $8 or $9 million in IHL support and outside of that, there weren’t any changes to the proposal from last Tuesday."

Many K-12 education supporters are going to Jackson today to protest the governor’s proposed education cuts.

DeSoto County Schools Superintendent Milton Kuykendall will be among the speakers at Tuesday’s education rally.

"I’ve taken up for the governor, when he cut all the agencies last year I wrote a letter to the editor taking up for him," Kuykendall said. "I think most of our people in Jackson are on board. Sen. Davis has a vey powerful voice in Jackson and I know we’ve all supported the governor over the years but this is one time he is wrong and we all need to tell him he’s wrong on this one."

An education funding bill (HB 1494) passed through the House and Senate two weeks ago and is now in committee. Gov. Haley Barbour has asked the House and Senate budget writers to cut an additional $77 million dollars from the total budget, focusing on education and mental health funding for the cuts.

"This kind of last-minute posturing over the state budget – after all, we are talking about a small part of the state’s overall $19 billion annual budget – is nothing more than political grandstanding by a man who appears more interested in traveling around the country campaigning for president," said House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose in an official statement released Monday. "House members have sent the Senate a complete budget that is balanced; that leaves more than $250 million in reserve funds; and that uses as a baseline revenue figure the amount approved by the professionals who estimate the amount for us each year. It is a prudent budget that takes nothing for granted."

Kuykendall said the money to fund education is in the state coffers but Barbour wants to use the money to expand the rainy day fund.

Davis made a budget proposal Thursday that would give level funding to the schools’ Mississippi Adequate Education Program, meaning they will receive the same funding as l ast year.

The proposal would cut the total budget by approximately 1.2 percent, which would include cutting the teacher’s classroom supply reimbursement fund,the buildings and buses fund and would reduce property taxes.

It would also add 0.7 percent to state university funding and 4 percent to community colleges.

House budget negotiators sent the Senate signed reports Monday that uphold the level of funding for K-12 education that the state lawmakers previously approved, funding K-12 at the same level as the current fiscal year.

"The governor wants to take money from mental health and K-12, he doesn’t want to cut any other agencies," Kuykendall said. "To get paid for every student we should get $133 million for MAEP plus $10 million in add-ons (transportation, gifted education, etc.). We can work with $120 million and not have to make a lot of significant cuts and reductions because we cut about $18 million last year. If we went down another $6 or so million, we would have to make more reductions. The rainy day fund has plenty of money in it and it’s raining."

According to the Better Mississippi Report, a non-partisan research business in Jackson, Barbour’s requested funding cuts include:

-a $65 million education cut, including $6 million from teachers’ supply funds, $8 million in ad valorem (property, car tags) tax reductions and $16 million in building repairs and transportation.

-a $3.65 million cut from the $78 million the house voted to spend on vocational and technical education.

-a $30 million cut from the $720 million house members voted to fund state universities as well as a $15 milli on cut from the required federal Medicaid match for the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

-a $7 million cut from mental health funding as well as a $20 million cut in money given to mental health facilities which could cause centers to close.

-an $18 million cut from homestead exemption, a program that reduces local property taxes.

Barbour has not asked for specific cuts from community college funding but he has vetoed a bill which would give community colleges $233 million.

The House has approved a balanced budget which will use general funds as well as other revenues and are working on a plan that will leave the state more than $250 million in cash reserves.

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