Morris more optimistic about full funding

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Maybe, just maybe, it’ll happen after all.

Superintendent Anthony Morris has been a local beacon for the state cause of fully funded education, but when the legislative session opened and closed with no budget, things started to look grim.

&uot;You do want to hold out and be as optimistic as you can as long as you can,&uot; Morris said. &uot;But you have to have an air of realism to it and realize that the economic situation is pretty bad in the state and especially in Southwest Mississippi.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Already $70 million short from last year’s education funding request, state schools, education supporters and even former Gov. William Winter spent much of the winter rallying for full funding this year.

The Department of Education requested $2 billion for the coming fiscal year.

Morris has said all along the situation was worse for the Natchez-Adams District, which coupled the loss of state dollars last year with the loss of ad valorem tax dollars as a result of the closure of International Paper and other local industries. The district raised taxes in July to meet this year’s budget.

On Monday, a tiny light at the end of the tunnel flickered. As a result of the WorldCom Inc. settlement, $100 million may be on the way into the state’s bank account via MCI Inc. back taxes. WorldCom was the predecessor of MCI.

State leaders proposed using the money to first fully-fund education, asking the governor to call a special session as soon as possible.

&uot;For something like that to come along, it would really be a shot in the arm,&uot; Morris said.

The money would be a one-time source and wouldn’t solve budget problems in the future, leaders cautioned, but it could easy the current crunch.

No date has been set for a special session yet. The MCI settlement has to be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court before the money can go into state accounts. Lawmakers would have to approve the appropriation of any money to education or other departments.

&uot;I have really been concerned about us losing 20 years of progress,&uot; Morris said. &uot;Anything we can get to slow that down would be great.

&uot;Nobody on the federal level and nobody on the state level has said we understand the crunch you are under financially so we will relax some of those expectations.&uot;