Education gets funding; session halfway

Published 2:01 pm Sunday, February 25, 2007

We have reached the halfway mark of the 2007 legislative session.

A majority of the work accomplished this week centered on the finance and appropriations process. Perhaps the most important and complex job of the legislature each year is to set the state’s budget. Our goal is to provide the state with the best budget possible; one that is balanced and meets the needs of our numerous state agencies and departments.

Our top priority is funding of our public education system. Traditionally, K-12 education receives the lion’s share of the available general revenue funds. In my current term as your state senator, education has continued to see an increase in funding every year. This week we unanimously authorized the appropriation of a record amount of money to K-12 education.

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Among other actions, the legislation fully funds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. In 1997, the legislature enacted a bill that set forth the MAEP. Under this law, a system was developed to identify which schools were successfully providing an adequate education to students, evaluate how much money these schools were using to accomplish this goal, and set forth a formula to ensure that all schools received the money necessary to provide an adequate education to their students.

In addition to full funding of the MAEP formula, HB 238, as amended by the Senate, gives a 3-percent pay raise to our public education teachers and an increase for teacher assistants. It also provides pay raises for all state education employees. Another benefit of the bill is an increase in the state share of the costs of health insurance and retirement benefits for all education employees and teachers.

Included in the legislation is an increase of $4 million from fiscal year 2007 for schools that serve our state’s most at risk students. The legislation also provides monies for mentoring programs, dropout prevention programs and dyslexia screening programs. If HB 238 as amended by the Senate is accepted by the House, the total appropriations for K-12 will be just shy of $2.5 billion.

The Senate also authorized SB 3060, which appropriates $5 million to the Department of Human Services to fund the Early Learning Collaborative Act. The aim of the act is to require DHS to develop and implement a program for a quality rating system of licensed early care/education and after school programs. Our aim is to ensure the quality of education provided by addressing these institutes’ administrative policies, professional development initiatives, learning environments and policies for parental involvement.

As the legislative session continues, we will work to complete the process of setting our state’s budget. In addition, our committees have begun the process of reviewing, studying and acting on all of the House bills and constitutional amendments that the House transmitted to the Senate. Senate committees have until Tuesday to report on all these bills.

We appreciate your continued support and look forward to working for the betterment of our communities. We welcome any of your comments and suggestions.

Sen. Bob DEARING represents Adams County in the Mississippi Legislature. He can be reached at 601-359-3272.