Education funding must be a priority

Over the past several years we’ve seen the leaders of this state, in words and in action, call for dramatic improvements in our education system.

We’ve seen increased emphasis placed on state testing, allegedly so that we can better evaluate how administrators and teachers at each school are doing. If they can’t pass the muster, school officials are fired and the state takes over.
A more rigorous curriculum is being gradually implemented with “Common Core” in an effort to bring our students’ achievement up to national and international levels.

Joel McNeece

Beginning next year, schools will begin to enforce the third grade reading gate as passed down by the state legislature, designed to have all third graders reading at grade level, or they don’t get promoted to the fourth grade.
Higher standards and improved performance are not unreasonable expectations to be placed on our schools, unless you fail to give them the necessary resources to obtain such objectives.

Once again this year, the legislature appears poised to fail to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) – the formula designed to ensure an adequate education for every Mississippi child. The key word is “adequate,” not exceptional.

Superintendent Mike Moore noted in last week’s school board meeting that Calhoun County alone has lost $6.7 million in funding dollars by the legislature’s failure to fully fund MAEP since 2009. That’s a lot of teachers, teacher’s aides, classroom materials and facility improvements this county has had to overcome.
Legislators are quick to pick apart the MAEP formula saying there’s no guarantee of improved student achievement simply by providing more funding.

I’ve heard countless legislators say over the years “you can’t fix the problem simply by throwing more money at it.” I agree in theory, but there’s no way we can know for certain because we’ve never tried it.

The legislature’s consistent lack of education funding while increasing the demand for achievement from our schools reminds me of the old definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
If we expect schools to truly thrive we have to invest not only time, but money.

I understand that education already gets the largest slice of pie when it comes to the state budget and there are only so many pieces, but you have to prioritize. I don’t believe the legislature is giving education the priority it deserves.
I don’t pretend that cuts to other budget areas will be easy, but education has to get more. It’s the one area that has a direct impact on everything else – economic development, corrections, public safety.

If we improve achievement in our schools, we would see improvement in all the other areas in the direction we desire, but it all starts with K4-college.
It’s past time for the legislature to put their money where their mouth is and fully fund education.
And while you’re at it, give teachers the pay raise they deserve without forcing them to jump through absurd hoops.

Email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece