The underfunding of MAEP

Published 11:33 am Friday, September 30, 2016

You may have difficulty reading these words due to the wool being pulled over your eyes by the folks in Jackson. You may be tired of being told what the public education hit squad is doing now.

Recently, I wrote about the new school ranking system. To call it an abomination and stupidly decided would be a polite comment.  Anyway, I sent that column to every legislator. Almost immediately a response came from one of them down near the Coast. He said I had misread the intended rating system. I didn’t bother to answer him that I am certified as a reader of the English language.   Nobody else responded.

Last week the folks at Mississippi Today reported that the Department of Education is getting an even larger cut in its budget than was already planned. Remember when all the dollars were going to corporate tax incentives? Well, the boys on the hill miscalculated about whether there would be enough dollars left over to actually run the government.  Turns out they made a $55 million dollar error. Okay, no big deal:  just call it a clerical error.  So the Gov dips into the rainy day fund, calculating that a worse hit came come to the State by which the rainy day fund might save us.

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The news from Jackson is that another $4.9 million must be cut from the Education budget. Almost before that word got around the state, Gov. Phil Bryant was poised to assure everyone that no harm had been done. He said, “It was so we didn’t have to cut MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program).” There, now!  Don’t you feel better? Remember that MAEP is the state law that requires funding public education at a prescribed amount, thus seeking to ensure that schools have sufficient funds regardless of other conditions.  Remember also that MAEP has only been funded one year at the level the law requires.

What the news story about the latest slash in funding didn’t report is that MAEP was already slated to be underfunded in the next budget by $206 million, the same amount it was underfunded for the current fiscal year. So the short-changing of schools will be

$211 million for 2017. One can only wonder at how much of the money that does make it to public schools gets siphoned off for charter schools under some of the questionable legislation that was enacted in the last session.

How, some creature from outer space might ask, does such chicanery succeed? The sad answer is that too few people challenge what’s done to them with their own tax dollars.  Where is outrage from organized school boards? Why don’t the members of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents speak out about what’s being done to their schools? Where is opposition from the learned folks in the Schools of Education on university campuses?  Why is the Mississippi Professional Educators mum about all this?

Maybe I should be satisfied that one lone legislator took a moment to email me about my poor understanding of things.

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.