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Budget groups question education agencies on travel spending

JACKSON, MISS– The Mississippi Department of Education, The Mississippi Community College Board, and the Institute for Higher Learning were questioned on Monday by lawmakers regarding the spending of taxpayer dollars on travel expenses.

Overall, a very small portion of the agencies’ budgets were dedicated to travel, but a little bit can make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.

“Last year, over $60 million was spent in travel for all state agencies,” said Lt. Governor Tate Reeves. “If we saved 10 percent, that’s six million that could be spent in priority areas.”

Within the Department of Education, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright said most of the travel expenses are for in-state, district-to-district travel-mostly for reading coaches and other specialists.

For training, teachers and administrators are not doing much traveling.

“We now go to them for training, instead of bringing them to one area,” said Dr. Wright. “It’s more efficient that way.”

To keep the costs of traveling out-of-state at bay, Dr. Wright said it is her job to authorize out-of-state travel before it can take place.

For the Mississippi Community College Board, Dr. Andrea Mayfield said that travel expenses make up less than two percent of the overall budget.

“Each community college has their own travel policies, put in place by their board of trustees,” said Dr. Mayfield.

While there is a good bit of out-of-state travel for conventions, conferences, and training, Dr. Mayfield said many of those trips are tied to grants that were given to the institution for a program.

“Many of these grants require travel,” said Dr. Mayfield. “As of Friday we received a $1.2 million dollar grant for apprenticeship programs, and a $200,000 grant prior to that.”

Travel costs are included in those grants.

While the main focus of the budget groups today was to focus on travel, Dr. Mayfield was asked to elaborate on other money-saving techniques the community colleges have used.

“With career-tech courses,” said Dr. Mayfield. “We get requests every month to terminate a program that does not have a high return of investment for the student.”

The community college board investigates nixing those programs and moving the money to other more lucrative courses, but the community colleges individually make the decision as to when it could be time to cut the program.

While career-tech programs, especially those for the healthcare field, tend to be costly to the college, Dr. Mayfield said they work to keep the programs that have a high return of investment for the students.

“That is our priority,” said Dr. Mayfield. “If the students are finding jobs, making good money in that field, then it has a high return of investment for the students.”

The Institute of Higher Learning said that travel expenses make up less than one percent of their budget.

IHL head Dr. Glenn Boyce said that while some institutions have higher travel expenses than others, out-of-state conference travel is mostly covered outside of state funds.

“Travel is included in federal research grants,” said Dr. Boyce.

For example, if a professor has written a paper to be presented at a conference, the federal grant given to that professor to continue his research factored in the costs of travel.

While college and university administrators often travel for meetings across the state, Dr. Boyce said it is cheaper for the institutions to maintain their own fleets of cars, as opposed to paying for the use of a personal vehicle.

“For a fleet car, it costs 14 cents a mile for gas, and seven cents a mile for maintenance,” said Dr. Boyce. “Some schools have noticeably higher costs for their fleets, and we’re investigating that.”

The afternoon session of the budget hearings will evaluate other state agencies’ travel expenses. News Mississippi will be following these meetings. The latest on Twitter @News_MS.

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