/Education is the top priority, state leaders say as funding falls further behind rest of budget

Education is the top priority, state leaders say as funding falls further behind rest of budget

Mississippi’s political leaders frequently cite education as their top priority. To support their claim that education is the top priority, they cite funding for new programs such as reading mentors and early childhood education investments. They also cite a teacher raise as examples. In 2008, which was regarded as a high point for either good or bad in terms of the state’s spending levels, $2.565billion was spent on K-12 education compared to $2.614billion for fiscal year 2018. In reality, however, the amount spent on K-12 education in 2018 was $340.2million less than in 2008. This is when inflation is taken into account. It would have cost an additional $340 million to achieve the same purchasing power in 2018. Mississippi Today reported that it would have cost $260 million more to buy the same amount of buying power for the state general fund budget, which was $6.01 billion in 2018 and $5.63 billion in 2008. When inflation is taken into account, spending is $80 million lower for K-12 education than it is for the rest. It should also be noted that although many of these new programs are widely praised as being good for public education they actually mean that local school districts now have less money than the 2008 high water mark for basic expenses. Phillip Burchfield, former head of Clinton School District and executive director of Mississippi Association of Superintendents said that dollars are scarce. Superintendents use funds to ensure that the essentials are met. These essentials include power, natural gas and fuel costs, as well as maintenance of buildings and instructional supplies. Since 2008, all of these have gone up. All have increased since 2008. This is good news for teachers and education. However, inflation is taken into account so it almost seems like the Legislature approved the pay increase but did not provide the funds to local school district to pay it. The budget numbers that compare 2008 and 2018 spending levels are taken from legislative documents. Cecil Brown, Democratic Central District Public Service Commissioner, was a former state fiscal officer who was also a key member of House Appropriations Committee. He did calculations to determine how current purchasing power compares to that in 2008. Brown used the 1.42 annual average inflation rate, as calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate his figures. Darrin Webb, the state economist, was also provided with the same education numbers to ensure safety. Webb used the Consumer Price Index to calculate the 16.6 percent inflation rate during this time period. He calculated that it would have required even more – $377.9million additional appropriations – in order to have the same purchasing power for education in 2018, as in 2008. Maybe the cuts are exactly what education needs. Mississippi’s standardized tests scores, at least for the lower grades, are rising faster than many other states. Graduation rates are also increasing. Some would argue that more money is unnecessary because of these improvements. “For too long, Mississippi was judged on one’s commitment towards education by inputs – how much you were willing to spend. Tate Reeves stated earlier in the year. While that is important, the conversation should not be limited to inputs. It’s also about the outcomes. Because outcomes and whether our children can compete are what is critical.” Could more funding have made a difference in the Delta teacher shortage crisis that was reported this week by Mississippi Today