Mississippi leaders debate education funding

By Ashley Porter - email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - It was standing room only inside a legislative hearing room in the Woolfolk Building on Wednesday. Spectators crowded in as the Department of Education revealed its needs for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2010.

"Teacher pay increase is very critical to the profession," said Bill Jones, chair of the Mississippi Board of Education. "We [also] need to help the schools that are failing where we can."

But where the education system can help may rely on whether its request for a 6.7 percent funding increase is granted by lawmakers.

"We're almost at $1.5 billion in excess requests with this series of hearings," said State Senator Billy Hewes, a republican from Gulfport.

The education request asks for $173 million more than what it received this fiscal year.

"We understand these are critical times in the state of Mississippi as far as funding levels go," said Dr. John Jordan, Interim State Superintendent of Education.

During Wednesday's budget talks, lawmakers asked about consolidating purchasing and other administrative jobs in school districts.

"Yes, you can save money by consolidating purchasing," said Jordan.

Lawmakers and education leaders also discussed starting school later in the year to save on air conditioning costs.

State numbers show last year, elementary and middle school teachers made an average of about $41,000. That's not enough, education officials say, to bring in new teachers and keep the ones already in our schools.

"If you can't hire adequate teachers, properly trained teachers, and people that want to do it for what it pays, the system won't work," said Jones.

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