July 29, 2014 10:10:31 AM
Mississippi has two sales tax holidays. The first came last weekend with a sales tax exemption on back-to-school items limited to clothing and footwear. The other, signed into law this year by Gov. Phil Bryant and enjoying broad legislative support, comes Sept. 5-7. That sales tax holiday exempts hunters from sales tax on guns, ammunition and other hunting supplies.
In short, if you want to buy a military rifle, you get a tax break. If you want to by a pack of No. 2 pencils, forget about it. The governor and legislature would rather see you armed than educated, apparently.
That says much about our state leaders' real commitment to education, although no one should be at all surprised.
In 1997, the state legislature passed a law to ensure the proper funding of our public K-12 schools, devising a formula to meet that goal. All of the money in the formula was directed to school operations. None of the funds in the formula are set aside for administration, which we agree is often bloated and bureaucratic. Yet since the Mississippi Adequate Education Program was initiated 17 years ago, the legislature has met the requirement of that law just twice. It is estimated that our schools have been underfunded by $1.5 billion since 2010 alone.
Admittedly, the economic recession of recent years has left the legislature with the unenviable task of cutting virtually every state budget. However, our state finances currently appear to be in shape.
As recently noted by the Northeast Mississippi Journal, the state "rainy day" fund sits at $409.5 million. State revenues have increased by $284.9 million between 2013 and 2014.
Mississippi underfunded public education by $256 million in 2014.
We spend less than any other state in per-pupil funding. We also rank last in student performance. If the only goal adequately funding our schools achieved is to reduce the teacher-student ratio, that in itself would produce notable improvement.
From time to time, when confronted with the disconnect between what our legislators say about the importance of education and what they actually do about it, legislators push through bills to restore some funding. But these are always half-measures, designed primarily to take the heat off themselves.
In May, a non-profit group called Better Schools, Better Jobs began a petition drive seeking an amendment to the state constitution that requires the legislature to fulfill its promise made in the MAEP. The group is close to securing the 100,000 signatures it needs to put the referendum on the ballot in November.
As noted, funding is not the only obstacle our K-12 education faces. Another factor, perhaps even more important than funding, is the commitment from the community. Do our communities really value an education? If so, signing this petition to fully fund schools is an excellent way to demonstrate that commitment.
For more information on the petition, go to http://www.betterms.org/ballot-initiative.
Our legislators have demonstrated how they really feel about education.
Here is your opportunity to show how you feel. We encourage all those who take education seriously to sign this petition and vote for the constitutional amendment in November.
The people of Mississippi should have the final say on this subject.
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