Other Opinions

Equitably fund public education

Helmick
Helmick

As a proud grandmother of two and a 37-year veteran educator in our state’s public schools, I believe in public education. Like my educator colleagues throughout Mississippi, I love teaching and adore students!

Mississippi educators became educators to ignite in our students the passion and love for learning. We cherish watching our students as they blossom before our eyes.

Mississippi educators believe that all public education students — regardless of their ZIP code or background — need the tools and resources necessary for their success. Mississippi educators also know that public schools are the heart of every community and the economic engine for a community’s prosperity.

Our state leaders have stated they will overhaul — rather than fully fund — the state’s public education funding formula that was created to provide equitable resources for students.

This year, the gap between what state leaders were supposed to provide and what they did provide is $172 million — pushing to $2.9 billion the total amount of public education funding the state has failed to provide students since the last time the formula was fully funded. To view your school district’s funding crisis, go to maetoday.org/fundpubliceducation.

When state leaders fail to provide the state’s fair share of public education, local property owners are forced to fill in the gap. As of 2014, the last date for which information is available, local property owners are paying an additional $85 million a year in school taxes to close the gap.

Our legislative leaders must fund the state’s fair share of every student’s public education. Paying one’s fair share is a principle we teach our students. As educators, we ask our legislative leaders to lead by example: Fund public education.

MAE has two additional messages:

First, send every penny of classroom supply money. This year, the amount of taxes collected for classroom supplies was $36 million. The money was already in the bank. Yet legislative leaders sent only $12 million to our students’ classrooms. That is $1 out of every $3 that was already been collected and in the bank.

Expecting educators to pay for classroom supplies is simply wrong.

Second, fix the teacher shortage so our students can have a highly qualified teachers and the assistant teachers they need in every classroom.

Mississippi has two kinds of teacher shortages: Classroom teachers and assistant teachers. Everyone knows that teachers and assistant teachers are the greatest classroom assets.

Each year, Mississippi school districts need to fill about 3,000 classroom teaching positions. Low pay plays a significant role in the shortages in our classrooms and deprives our students of highly qualified teachers. Mississippi must become competitive with states next door that recruit the teachers we need here at home.

MAE recommends starting this year, and going through the next few years, that Mississippi increases the starting salary for classroom teachers from its base of $33,400 to $40,000.

The high turnover rate with assistant teachers is also causing instability in our students’ classrooms. These hard-working and critically important educators earn $12,500 a year — the same they have earned every year since 2008. When it comes to assistant teachers, the state can begin to stabilize the turnover rate in our students’ classrooms. We can stabilize our students’ classrooms by increasing assistant teacher pay to a living wage.

We ask our leaders to hold public hearings and be transparent in dealing with public education funding.

As educators, we teach our students about transparency and democracy in our nation’s government. We ask our state leaders to demonstrate to all of Mississippi students — from K-12 to community colleges and universities — that what they learn in civics classes or American Government 101 courses is alive and well in the halls of Jackson, Mississippi.

Joyce Helmick is president of the Mississippi Association of Educators.

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