By Jack Brister
Mississippi, being a historically poor state, has many struggling government-funded programs. Public education is one of these programs that Mississippi consistently ranks toward the bottom or even last in among the 50 states, and the state government is not taking the appropriate efforts to improve the education future students will receive. Even as new state spending bills are passed, government officials in the state of Mississippi are failing to prioritize education causing public schools to be underfunded as students in Mississippi continue to fall behind others around the country.
This lack of education funding is not a new issue for residents of Mississippi, though. The state has underfunded public education for years leading all the way back to the pre civil war era when government officials allocated most of the education fund to private schools that were attended solely by white residents. In the decades following the Civil War, the state established a more formal public schooling program, but money was still apportioned mostly to private schools. It was not until the Mid-1900s that public schools began receiving an appropriate portion of the state’s education fund. And although an appropriate percentage of the fund is allocated to public schools today, Mississippi faces another issue: the education program rarely ever sees the amount of money it is promised.
The state government instituted the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) in 1997. This program recognized that Mississippi students were well behind their peers around the country and aimed to increase funding for schools to ensure no student in Mississippi was left behind. The State Legislature has consistently failed to deliver on the promise of better education though seeing as the MAEP has only ever been fully funded in two separate years during its twenty year existence. Experts estimate that this has resulted in public schools being under-funded by around 2.3 billion dollars since 2008. This lack of funding causes teachers to be underpaid and ill-equipped to educate students and prepare them for the future.
Last year, Mississippians saw a brief glimmer of hope for better education in the future when the state governor announced the creation of the Mississippi State Lottery. Many states use a significant portion of the profits made from their lotteries to fund public education, and this same system was expected to be established in Mississippi. The state Legislature once again failed the public education system however, when they announced that, until June 30, 2028, the first 80 million dollars made from the lottery each year will go to The Mississippi Highway Fund before the rest of the profits will be distributed to the Education Enhancement Fund. Experts estimate that the lottery will bring in roughly 40 million dollars in profits the first year and rise to 80 million dollars in subsequent years as it continues to grow. This means that the Education Enhancement Fund may not receive any of the profits in years to come because the State Legislature has once again chosen not to prioritize education at the level it should.
The low prioritization of education by the State Legislature causes many problems for students, teachers and administrators throughout the state. Most schools in Mississippi can not afford to procure relevant technology needed to teach students, and some schools can not even afford to purchase updated textbooks to replace the ones they currently have that are decades old.This causes teachers to be ill equipped for the jobs that they are already underpaid for. Adjusting for inflation, teachers in the state of Mississippi have seen a 16 percent pay cut since the 2009-2010 school year. As teachers continue to become more and more ill equipped and underpaid, many teachers may choose to move elsewhere to find adequate pay, and less students may choose to become teachers in the future.
The current solution being proposed by advocates for education reform in Mississippi is to allocate more of the profits made from the lottery to the Education Enhancement Fund. This solution does not require any complex adjustments, and it would likely impact residents throughout the entire state in a positive manner as soon as the beginning of the next school year. By adequately funding schools, teachers can be paid an appropriate wage, and students will be more prepared to pursue higher education. This could pay dividends in the long run for Mississippi. As residents throughout the state begin receiving a better education, many of them will be better equipped to contribute to their respective communities in a positive way. This can only be achieved, however, if the Mississippi State Legislature chooses to value education moving forward.