Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that language in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, funding states that 21 school districts were not entitled to the $235 million they sought to claim in a lawsuit which was filed back in 2014. Since the ruling came down, the debate on public education’s funding and future has resurfaced.
MAEP was passed in 1997 as a vehicle to attempt to fully fund state education in Mississippi. Funding for the program is based on legislative decisions each session. The money that the districts were attempting to recover was from 2010-2015, years in which the program was not fully funded.
Senator Gray Tollison is the Chairman of the Education committee in the Mississippi Senate, and said that the ruling is in line with the constitution of the state. Tollison referenced Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution which states that “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”
Tollison mentioned that the language doesn’t specify a certain dollar amount and that it is wrong to say that the legislature doesn’t fund public education. Mississippi is 21st in terms of state money given to schools according to the chairman.
“We are complying with the constitution. We provide nearly 2.5 billion every year from state money to our schools,” Tollison said. “That’s on top of over $700-$800 million of federal money and $1 billion in property tax money that comes locally. To say that we are not providing money to our schools is really irresponsible.”
Chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party Bobby Moak said that the court’s ruling signals a bleak view for public education in the state.
“Education, healthcare, and law enforcement are the basic tenants of what state government should provide for their citizens, beyond that everyone can fight over the next dollar goes,” Moak said. “I think education should be a top priority, but I don’t believe that it is a priority of this group in the Capital.”
After the court’s ruling, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves praised the state’s leadership for the decisions in funding public education.
“I’m proud Mississippi’s Republican leaders have prioritized education at all levels and spent about $400 million more than it did just six years ago, and we will continue to find more ways to invest in the classroom to provide opportunities for our kids.”
Education will continue to be a hot-button issue as the January 2018 legislative session approaches.