School Districts Face Decisions

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Friday is deadline day for school officials in Mississippi to set the number of teachers they will have on payroll for the next school year. School officials say without a final budget in place, this task will not be easy.

Mississippi lawmakers adjourned the regular session last week without approving a final state budget. This has left many questions about funding for education needs.

As it stands, Lauderdale County Superintendent David Little says his district will have to eliminate at least seven elementary school teaching positions to make up for the projected shortfall.

"Put their money where their mouth is. They always talk about public education being a priority," said Little. "They talk about the children being a priority, but they haven't demonstrated that."

Gov. Haley Barbour says the debate in Jackson is not over cutting education funds for next year, but instead about whether to provide a lower increase than the 15 percent hike requested by the state Department of Education. He says the budget actually has a four percent increase.

Next month, Barbour is expected to call a special legislative session. At that time, lawmakers are expected to decide on a final state budget.

While educators wait for a budget, lawmakers still have a $50 million carrot hanging in front of them, a promise made by Netscape founder Jim Barksdale.

Barksdale says if lawmakers will "fully fund" education, he'll give the state $50 million for reading scholarships. The scholarships would go to students participating in the Barksdale Reading Program, designed to help students in Mississippi to read better.

Local educators say letting that money go to waste would be wrong.

"This is a gift and we're throwing away $50 million," said Clarkdale Principal Jan Miller. "This is the way I see it. "

Gov. Barbour's deputy chief of staff says the state can't set public policy based on whoever will pay the most money.