Education Rally at Capitol

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Teachers, parents and lawmakers on Tuesday put pressure on Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Senate to approve a spending plan that fully funds public education.

Two teachers unions held rallies to criticize a Senate bill that is nearly $200 million less than what the Board of Education says it needs to operate in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Mississippi Association of Educators president Beverly Brahan says the proposal would force districts to cut thousands of teachers or raise local taxes to make up the shortfall.

Lawmakers face a weekend deadline for budget bills. Negotiators from the House and the Senate will work on a funding compromise for education.

Brahan says lawmakers made a promise to fund an eight percent pay raise and the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a formula designed to ensure that every school district receives enough money to meet midlevel accreditation standards.

Barbour's spending recommendation covers the teacher raise, but is less than what education officials sought for MAEP.

In the meantime, business mogul Jim Barksdale is making Mississippi lawmakers an unusual offer.

The former president and CEO of Netscape and former chief operating officer of FedEx says he will put up $50 million of his own money to reward some students who graduate from high school and can read at the proper grade level.

The catch: He wants legislators to fully fund public education and a teacher pay raise for the state budget year that starts July 1. He also wants lawmakers to approve an annual audit of how federal child care money is spent.

Barksdale, who lives in Jackson, spoke to the House and Senate Tuesday, just days before lawmakers are scheduled to finish budget talks.

His family funds the Barksdale Reading Institute, which teaches literacy programs for children in low-performing Mississippi schools. Barksdale says his $50 million would be used to reward Reading Institute participants.

When a child who has successfully completed the program graduates from high school, he or she would receive $5,000.

Then, when the child graduates from any of Mississippi's eight public universities, he or she would get another $5,000 from Barksdale.