Responding quickly to dire news about Mississippi's school districts, House lawmakers approved a bill today that would appropriate $68 million for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the state's primary funding mechanism for low-revenue districts.
House Bill 1383 diverts $68 million from the state's general fund, an amount equal to the projected revenue for the 2009 fiscal year from a $1 cigarette tax, which the House approved last week. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
The move comes on the heels of Gov. Haley Barbour's decision last week to slash MAEP funding by $76.6 million as part of an overall $85 million cut to K-12 education. On Wednesday, Mississippi Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said that he expected 14 school districts to have negative fund balances by the end of the school year as a result of the cut.
Bounds met with district superintendents Wednesday to explain the effects of cuts. Department of Education staff suggested various cost-cutting measures, including reducing energy consumption, freezing travel and paring down after-school programs. Bounds asked superintendents to refrain from cutting anything directly related to instruction.
"Let's do everything possible to protect the academic integrity of each school," he said.
Hinds County School District has already taken steps to reduce its expenses, Superintendent Stephen Handley said. All field trips requiring student fees have been canceled, and all new hires have been frozen.
"It's not just the school districts that are hurting," Handley said. "It's families and communities."
Dr. Lonnie Edwards, superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, said that while he was not ruling out any measures, he would not sacrifice academic quality.
"We're planning to do an overall assessment of all of our programs," Edwards said.