Stimulus money to go to education in Mississippi

Published 11:34 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Millions in federal stimulus dollars will go toward restoring cuts made to Mississippi’s education budget, say officials who have met with Gov. Haley Barbour.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said Thursday that Barbour plans to use some of the federal funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a formula used to pay for elementary and secondary schools.

‘‘It’s his belief we will have sufficient money for MAEP,’’ Bryant said of the program.

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Barbour spokesman Dan Turner declined to discuss how the stimulus money would be spent on education.

Pete Smith, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Barbour had not met with agency officials yet.

‘‘We think the governor has that authority to restore cuts, but we don’t have anything definite yet,’’ Smith said.

President Barack Obama signed into law this week the $787 billion federal stimulus legislation that includes tax cuts and spending programs. Preliminary figures show Mississippi is in line to receive nearly $2.3 billion from the package, including $758 million over about two years for various education programs.

The cash infusion comes as school districts across the state may have trouble paying bills because of an order Barbour issued last month to cut 3.2 percent from funds provided through the state program. The governor cut all state agencies in response to weak tax collections amid the national recession.

‘‘I’m glad he’s going to restore it,’’ House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, a Democrat from Jackson, said of the Adequate Education Program funding. ‘‘It’s going to be interesting to see what he’ll do next year.’’

Brown said Barbour had met with him and other lawmakers early Thursday.

‘‘He didn’t give us any details. He just said he intended to restore the MAEP cuts,’’ Brown said.

The exact amount of stimulus funding Mississippi will receive for education is unclear. The estimated $758 million is slated for programs including technology grants and Title I, the main source of federal funding for poor students.

Sen. Eric Powell, a Democrat from Corinth, said a school district in the area he represents is on the brink of operating in the red.

‘‘Without fully funding MAEP, Alcorn County would be a half-million dollars in the hole,’’ Powell said.