Districts will feel the pinch of school funding cuts

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Budget cuts announced this week by Gov. Phil Bryant to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program will be spread out equally over the state’s nearly 140 school districts, officials say.

Bryant on Tuesday announced the third budget cut this fiscal year, marking the first time a cut would affect the state’s base public school funding.

In Mississippi, education funding is broken up into Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), the bulk of the money school districts receive, and non-MAEP programs funded by additional appropriations by the Legislature.

Bryant cut the $2.3 billion MAEP formula by about $11 million.

Pete Smith, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Education, said beyond addressing the MAEP cut, the department will have to work with the Legislature next year to restore approximately $3 million in mid-year cuts Bryant made to Career and Technical Education. Unless the state funds those  programs at the same level each year, it will no longer be eligible to receive a $15 million federal grant, he said.

“In the previous two cuts, the governor has cut the actual agency itself … a little more than $8.3 million. Then, when you include career and technical education, which is also a part of the budget, the agency has sustained a little over $11 million” in cuts to date, Smith said.

Smith said the agency has tightened its budget by eliminating and reducing new hires, professional development and travel. He said no one has been laid off at this point.

“The main goal of (State Superintendent) Dr. (Carey) Wright is to do things that will at least minimize the impact in the classroom. So the reform work that’s been going on for the last several years such as early childhood, literacy and those types of programs … they’ve not sustained cuts,” Smith explained.

Although the cut announced by Bryant is less than a half of one percent of overall MAEP funding, the formula has been underfunded for years. This fiscal year, for example, school districts received $172 million less than the formula called for, according to calculations by public school advocates.

Bryant said in his announcement the cut was a “necessity.”

The move comes amid ongoing discussions and proposals to change the state’s funding formula.

The Legislature hired New Jersey-based nonprofit consultant EdBuild to come up with recommendations for a new formula, which the group presented in January. Legislators have been unable to agree on a new formula, but are hopeful to come up with a bill outside of the regular session.