A possible showdown could loom over the appropriations bill for K-12 education spending in Mississippi.
The House passed Mississippi Department of Education appropriations bill that reduced its general fund outlay by slightly less than $3.5 million from last year’s appropriation. The Senate amended the bill and cut that figure by more than $147 million before passing it unanimously.
The bill has been returned to the House for concurrence. If the House agrees to the changes, the cuts will go into effect. If not, a compromise will have to be reached in conference.
The state’s revenues, according to the May revenue report, are down $51.1 million from the pre-session estimate and $137.1 million from collections at the same time last year due to the Coronavirus-related economic shutdown.
The House appropriated $2.291 billion in general fund monies for education and $1.181 billion in special funds that include the Education Enhancement Fund that receives a diversion from the state’s 7 percent sales tax and is shared by MDE, universities and community colleges.
The Senate’s amended appropriations bill cuts that to $2.143 billion, with the special funds outlay identical.
Both versions of the bill will provide $3 million for the state’s Education Scholarship Program for children with special needs, which provides money for tuition, tutoring and educational material.
A bill that keeps the ESA program going until 2024 was passed by both chambers and is on Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk for signature. There will be a few changes to the ESA program including a ban on the money going to out-of-state and online schooling options, a requirement that parents reimburse their school district for any services their child receives, a testing requirement and shrinking the window of eligible applicants to those who’ve received an Individualized Education Program in the past three years (the previous requirement was five years). The program was set to expire this year without reauthorization.
State appropriations won’t be the only money K-12 education will receive this year.
The state Department of Education will also receive part of the $950 million left over from what the state received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed in March by Congress. MDE has requested $450 million for distance learning and former possible broadband expansion to get more home-bound students connected. School districts have already received $160 million from the CARES Act to compensate them for COVID-19 related expenses.
A bill that would appropriate CARES Act funds for MDE, the Institutes for Higher Learning and community colleges is just a vehicle at this point without any specifics on funding. That will happen in conference since both chambers have passed the measure with placeholder appropriations of a single dollar.
The House appropriation would represent a small cut, $3.4 million, over what was appropriated for last year. The Senate version would represent a $151 million cut from last year’s outlay.
Spending on K-12 averages about 39.95 percent of all general fund appropriations from fiscal 2017 to 2020. The state spent $3.457 billion (including general and special funds) on education in fiscal 2017 and spent $3.489 billion for fiscal 2020, which ends June 30.That’s an increase of slightly less than 1 percent.