Mississippi's public education system faces a difficult future, given persistent funding troubles, state Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said today. Speaking at the Jackson Chamber of Commerce's Friday Forum at Koinonia Coffee House, Blount touched on a number of topics, focusing on education and the state's fiscal difficulties.
Blount expressed concern about the nearly 2,000 teachers that Mississippi school districts laid off last year as a result of budget cuts. "That's beginning to have an impact on the quality of instruction," he said.
The current state budget uses roughly $700 million in "one-time money" from the federal stimulus package and other state special funds, Blount said. He predicted that the state Legislature in 2011 would once again fail to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the state's primary funding stream for low-income school districts. MAEP funding for this year is roughly $243 million below "adequate," as defined by state law.
"We fully funded education three years out of six until this most recent recession," Blount said. "That's going to be a very difficult question going forward. At some point you're going to have to either lower your standards (for adequate funding), or you're going to have to come up with some other ways to reprioritize the budget."
Jackson Chamber of Commerce President Jonathan Lee asked Blount how city leaders should address Jackson's need for greater state support criticizing state government. Blount said that city leaders had to adopt a positive message when addressing state government presence in the city.
"I think for too long we talked about state government being a burden on us," Blount said. "After a few years of that, the folks across the Pearl River said, 'Well, we'll take it.' There is an active effort going on to relocate these state agencies to Rankin County."
State government provides an enormous economic benefit for Jackson, Blount said, and it would hurt the city to lose the business of state employees. Jackson is a more appealing and appropriate location for state agencies, Blount added.
"People want to live near where they work," he said. "The alternative is a spread out, dispersed, sprawling (group of) agencies ... that are all over the place."