School choice, government efficiencies, purchasing reforms to take effect

JACKSON – Public schools, community colleges and universities will see record funding in Fiscal Year 2016 as the Legislature continues to make quality education a budget priority, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said.

Over the past four years, education spending has grown nearly $400 million.

The Legislature ended the 2015 session with a balanced $6.2 billion budget that spends recurring revenue on recurring expenses, fills the Rainy Day Fund and invests in priority needs. The Legislature allowed $200 million in revenue bonds that will help fund road and bridge repairs throughout the state.

“Republicans have made public education a priority at all levels, spending more than $3.5 billion on teaching tomorrow’s workforce,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “This balanced budget protects the state’s reserves and invests in programs that work. I appreciate the work of my colleagues in the Senate to keep spending under control, improve government efficiencies and strengthen the quality of education in Mississippi.”

Community colleges will receive record funding at $269.2 million, a $36 million increase over the past four years.

Universities will receive $771.5 million, a $70 million boost over the past four years. Under the plan, universities will be able to provide raises to faculty.

Public schools will see record levels of funding under a $2.52 billion budget. Education funding increased by $288 million in programs that directly impact classrooms over four years. The Legislature has increased support for teacher pay raises, reading coaches, prekindergarten, National Board Certified Teachers, teacher supply funds, school safety programs and vocational education.

The budget also includes raises for state troopers and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

Improving educational opportunities

Mississippi will be the third state in the nation to offer school choice to children with disabilities. Senate Bill 2695 allows scholarships for students with disabilities to attend any school that best fits their needs.

The bill allows parents to use state funds as a scholarship to attend a school that best addresses the needs of the child. Many Mississippi schools have struggled to meet the academic needs of students with disabilities. Currently, slightly more than 20 percent of special needs students graduate from high school.

Mississippi will end Common Core education standards under Senate Bill 2161. The bill also prohibits the Mississippi Department of Education from using the PARCC assessment in local schools beginning with the 2015-16 academic year. Specifically, the bill says, “the State Board of Education cannot require school districts to administer the multistate PARCC test or any other consortia-developed test.”

The bill establishes a task force comprised of educators, parents and subject matter experts to evaluate and create the highest level of standards in the nation for Mississippi.

Included in the bill are provisions that:

? Establish the Mississippi Commission for College and Career Readiness.
? End relationship with Common Core and PARCC.
? Add protections for student data.

Improving transparency and efficiency

Mississippians will not need to renew their inspection stickers after July 1. House Bill 982 eliminates the $5 inspection sticker.

“The vehicle inspection sticker is not an effective or efficient way to collect what is essentially a $5 tax,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said.

The boards of public hospitals, which are supported by taxpayer dollars, will be required to operate in the sunlight so employees, patients and taxpayers can monitor the fiscal management of the facilities. Senate Bill 2407 places public hospital boards under state open meetings laws.

Also, House Bill 831 requires agencies to disclose the fees they charge to taxpayers and mandates budget requests be readily available online at the Legislative Budget Office website.

Reforming government contracts

The Legislature passed bills tightening the rules on how agencies contract with vendors.

House Bill 825 places restrictions on contracting laws, increases scrutiny on government purchases and tightens regulations on sole-source contracts. The bill remakes the Personal Service Contract Review Board, requires a review of procurement practices once every two years by the legislative watchdog committee, and ensures pricing details and terms of contracts are public records. Senate Bill 2400 places restrictions on emergency contracts issued by agencies.

Protecting the Second Amendment

Legislation lowering fees on concealed carry permits and recognizing military service for firearm training passed with strong support from the National Rifle Association.

Senate Bill 2394 reduces the fee on concealed carry permits, clarifies that such permits are not needed to carry a non-holstered pistol or revolver in fully enclosed case, such as a purse or briefcase, and establishes a certain classification for honorably retired law enforcement officers.

Senate Bill 2619 recognizes military service for carrying an enhanced concealed carry permit, exempts members of the National Guard or Reserve units from state residency requirements for such permits, and protects Mississippians from overregulation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on commonly used rifle ammunition.