Mississippi Education Funding Lags by $1.5 Billion

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Education in the state of Mississippi is experiencing myriad problems as funding lags behind the state requirement by $1.5 billion.

The problem is so bad that teachers at Durant Public School spend their nights online looking for math problems because their students have such out-of-date textbooks that they do not meet Common Core standards.

“If we buy textbooks, we’re not going to have the teachers,” said Glenn Carlisle, a former Durant superintendent now serving as a district consultant.

The school has 588 students in grades K-12.  In addition, the school has a high turnover rate, tending to hire new teachers because they come at a lower cost, reports Jeff Amy for The Star Tribune.  Across the state, the number of teachers has fallen by 6%, or 2,000 teachers, between 2008 and 2013.

“Our first choice is to select those people with less experience, particularly people that are right out of college,” said Superintendent Louise Sanders-Tate.

According to school leaders, the school, which currently has an academic rating of “D,” cannot afford new textbooks or a reading coach.  The school claims it is in great need of repairs with its leaky roof and crumbling ceiling tiles.  In addition, there is no marching band, nor are there any advanced placement courses offered.  In an effort to save money, the number of teachers and assistants in the school were cut back and administrators are paid less.

With some of the biggest cuts across the country, legislators have spent $1.5 billion less on education in the state since 2008, ignoring a state law concerning the amount they are required to spend.

The last time lawmakers offered full funding according to the state’s formula was in 2008.  Since that time, 80% of the state’s 146 school districts have raised taxes in order to make up the difference.  However, state law does not allow some districts the ability to raise property taxes any higher, making them dependent on state funding.

In an effort to make the state pay what many districts feel they are owed, several districts sued this fall.  A separate group is working to have a funding guarantee written into the state constitution that would force lawmakers to allocate more money.

Funding was cut by the state during the recession as tax revenues saw a large drop.  Critics of the move say the state should have continued to fully fund education rather than to offer tax breaks to businesses and increase the state’s saving accounts.

An additional gap is estimated for the 2016 budget, which says the state could fall short by $280 million by that year.

A recent review by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that education spending in 35 states is currently lower than it was prior to the recession, yet Mississippi has felt the effects the most as the per-pupil spending in the state was already among the lowest in the country, and has the highest percentage of students in poverty of any state.  The state was ranked last this year in student achievement according to state ratings released by Education Week.