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DuPree outlines education restructuring plan

From Democratic gubernatorial candidate Johnny DuPree:

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree today has announced the first phase of his Mississippi Educational Restructuring Program (MERP).

“It’s time that we got serious about fixing public education in Mississippi,” DuPree said. “We’ve talked about it for years. We’ve had good governors say they wanted to fix it. And sadly, we’re still in the same spot we’ve always been. Last. That’s not good enough.”

Mayor DuPree said the first thing Mississippi has to do is live up to it’s promises to taxpayer, teachers and parents. In order to do that, he’s proposed $87.3 million in tax cuts to help raise teacher pay, provide assistance to parents and schools to buy classroom supplies and put money back into local economies to spur economic growth that will ultimately help in funding public education and other services.

Cut Taxes for Teachers

Phase 1 of MERP includes exempting Mississippi public school teachers with at least three years of service from paying personal income taxes on their teacher salary. This would mean an average of approximately $2,000 for every teacher.

Five years ago the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill designed to bring Mississippi’s average teacher salary inline with that of the Southeastern average. Unfortunately, not only did the bill fail to bring the state’s average teacher salary inline to the Southeastern average, teachers today are actually further away from the Southeastern average than they were in 2011.

Therefore, Mayor DuPree wants to exempt all public school teachers with at least three years of service from paying Mississippi income taxes on their teacher salaries.

“We have to show that we respect our teachers and that we’re serious about paying them a competitive wage,” DuPree said. “This is a step in that direction. It’s something that sets them apart and shows our commitment to them.”DuPree said a long-range plan to raise and keep Mississippi’s average teacher salary to the Southeastern average is necessary.This would be a $62.3 million tax cut that could be paid for with the $62 million surplus from the last fiscal year.

Tax Rebate for Parents

Phase 1 of MERP includes providing a $50-per-student tax rebate to parents of public school children to help pay for school supplies that have not been funded by the state. If parents rather, they can choose to have their tax rebate sent to their local public school where their child attends.

When the Legislature passed a 1-cent sales tax increase, they said 9.61 percent of that 1 cent would go to create the Education Enhancement Fund. However, the Legislature has failed to fund EEF, and that means teachers and parents have had to spend their own money to provide classroom and school supplies.

“The state has made promises we’ve not kept. They’ve taken taxes out and said they were going toward education, and that has not happened. So I want to give that money to the parents so they can buy school supplies and classroom materials,” DuPree said. “We have to have a commitment to our parents. We have to do what we say we’re going to do. This is a step toward that.”DuPree said he wants the state to issue $50/child tax rebates to parents each year. DuPree said parents would also have the option of having the rebates sent instead to the local public school their child attends.

With the current state sales tax collections, the EEF portion of the 1-cent tax comes to approximately $25 million. These tax rebates will find their way back to local economies to spur economic growth.“These tax rebates will help not only our parents and our teachers but also the local community where this money will be spent,” DuPree said. “This is good education policy and good economic policy.”

Three-Year Budget Projections

Phase 1 of MERP includes requiring three-year budget projections be furnished by the Department of Education and used by the Legislature in their annual funding discussions. Year-to-year funding has caused chaos, so long-term planning is needed.

“We simply cannot continue working year-to-year on our budgets,” DuPree said. “By using a more long-term approach, we can better ensure adequate and consistent funding for our public schools.”

DuPree said using three-year budget projections will help plan for future enrollment changes, MAEP formula changes, cost-of-living adjustments and capital improvement projects.

“This is something I think should happen with every department, not just education,” DuPree said. “But I want us to start with education because I know many of our school districts already use these projections themselves. It’s time we start using it on the state level and our lawmakers refer to them to ensure a smoother budgeting process from year to year.”

DuPree said it’s the difference between living paycheck to paycheck versus having a good personal budget and savings plan.

MERP: Phase 1

The Mississippi Education Restructuring Program under a DuPree Administration will start with $87.3 million in tax incentives and a change in how we budget for our public schools. Only when the state starts fulfilling its commitment to our teachers, our parents, our students and our taxpayers can we expect to begin improvement projects that will tackle early childhood development, graduation rates and workforce development issues.

“This is only Phase 1. In the next few weeks, we’ll talk more about our plans for early childhood development, graduation coaches and vocational and technical tracts. But this first step is important. It shows our commitment to teachers, parents and taxpayers,” DuPree said. “It will be the first measure I ask the Legislature to pass when I’m governor, and I’ll continue to fight until it becomes law.”

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