Callen: Tunica shows money won’t solve education woes

n one of the poorest regions of the nation, the Tunica County School District spends $11,471 per student per year. That is almost $2,500 more per student than the Mississippi average and almost $4,500 more than neighboring Desoto County, one of the highest-performing districts in the state.

This story is all too common in Mississippi. The worst-performing public school districts in the state are given considerably more money than the best-performing districts, and yet, this extra cash has not pulled these schools off the bottom. Far from it, unfortunately. Here, public school districts rated “F,” which Tunica was until moving up to a “D” this year, spend on average about $2,000 more per student than those districts rated “A.”

As a nation, we are spending more money on public education than ever before. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the total amount spent on the K-12 education of a student has increased 189 percent since 1970, and that’s after adjusting for inflation. In Mississippi, spending has increased 160 percent over the same period of time. Yet, with all this new education spending, our state’s abysmal ACT and SAT scores have remained virtually unchanged since 1970.

Despite these sobering facts, there has been a constant refrain from mostly Democrats over the last decade claiming that Mississippi is not spending enough money on education and should “fully fund” the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

It should be noted that the MAEP funding formula was passed into law by a Democrat-controlled Legislature in 1997 (over a Republican governor’s veto). The same Democrat-controlled legislature only “fully funded” this formula one time in the six years they controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the purse strings of state government. Now that Republicans are in control, it is suddenly a critical issue to Democrats.

Grant Callen
Clarion Ledger
8/9/15