Friday, July 10, 2015
Public-education advocates are taking a top Republican budget writer to task for using what they call scare tactics to defeat an upcoming statewide ballot referendum on school funding.
Earlier in the week, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, hastily called a meeting with state agency directors and told the group to prepare to slash their budgets by 7.8 percent across the board.
The cuts, Frierson said, will be necessary if Initiative 42 passes this fall. Initiative 42 is a citizen-driven ballot initiative that will require the state to establish, maintain and support an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.
Initiative 42 advocates have said that this meeting is nothing more than a scare tactic to get voters out of the idea of fully funding education.
Patsy Brumfield, communications director at Better Schools Better Jobs, which helped get the initiative on the ballot for November, said Initiative 42 aims to phase in adequate education funding gradually, not immediately.
Specifically, the plan was that if Mississippi's general fund increases by an average of 3 percent each year, then 25 percent of those revenues would go toward public schools. Depending on the state's rate of economic growth, public education could be fully funded within seven years.
"We are offering them a plan that we think is conservative, prudent and fiscally responsible, and that will not cause problems for agency budgets," she told the Jackson Free Press.
Backers of the initiative recommended, through paperwork filed with Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, to fund education "not by new taxes but by using a portion of future increases in the general fund."
The initiative does not demand immediate funding of MAEP, a formula that the Legislature created in 1997 and has fully funded only twice. Before the end of the legislative session this year, higher revenue forecasts prompted lawmakers to increase MAEP funding from early budget drafts. Yet, the enacted budget still shorted MAEP around $200 million, which equals around 3.2 percent of the state's $6.2-billion state budget.
Frierson wants agency directors to submit their reduction plans by July 15. The Division of Medicaid and the Department of Education are exempt from the proposed budget cuts.
Frierson told the Associated Press that if Initiative 42 passes, it is likely to result in immediate full funding of MAEP in next year's budget; however, his memo asks directors to look for cuts during the current budget year, which ends next June.
Because of their opposition to the initiative, top Republican leaders crafted a proposed alternative amendment to Initiative 42 known as 42A. A Hinds County judge rewrote the proposed alternative, and its fate is now up to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the matter soon.
Frierson told the Associated Press that he opposes both initiatives, and he believes either would require budget cuts in other state programs.
Read more coverage of Initiative 42 and the Mississippi Adequate Education Program at jfp.ms/maep.