Democrats Push MAEP Funding

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Democratic lawmakers in Mississippi are leading a charge in hopes the state's education system will see something that has become extremely rare, full funding.

"Let's fix a broken system rather than trying to change the system," said Rep. John Hinds of Greenville.

Since 2009, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, has been under-funded by more than $960 million, $292 million from the current year.

Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson says it doesn't have to be that way and the emphasis on the program should be the word adequate.

"If it was adequate, why are we ten, eleven or twelve percent below? said Brown. "That means it is inadequate."

Brown says current budget numbers show there's more than $409 million yet to be spent this year. That's money he says that could fully fund the system and still have millions left over.

While he doesn't suggest funding it all at once, Brown says it can be done gradually.

“Let's begin to take some of the $409 million and let's begin to pay down some of our debt to school districts out there," Brown said.

Brown says that debt is one of the major reasons the state's education system is plagued with problems.

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran told lawmakers her school district has had a $10 million shortfall since 2009 because of under-funding. That, she says, has translated into cutting programs and a few teaching positions.

"Not only are we compromising the quality of our education programs in this state, we're also forcing a hindrance on economic development at the local level," Moran said.

With much of the legislative focus on new educational initiatives like charter schools, Sen. David Blount of Jackson says that'll mean new money on top of the obligation to fund MAEP. He says that is shifting focus from a constitutional obligation.

"We need to remember what the basic fundamental issue is and that is 100 percent of our kids who are in public schools and that is directly affected by the MAEP program," Blount said.