The third annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast was held at the Courtyard Marriott earlier this morning. Sponsored by the Oxford Chamber of Commerce, the breakfast brought a panel of state legislators from Jackson to discuss the issues currently facing the state of Mississippi.
The panel included Senator Gray Tollison (R), Rep. Jim Beckett (R), Rep. Jay Hughes (D), Rep. Tray Lamar (R), Rep. Steve Massengill (R) and Rep. Nolan Mettetal (R). The focus of the discussion was centered around the future of education in Mississippi.
Sen. Tollison was the first to speak and led with numerous statistics that aimed to show the improvement of Mississippi education over recent years. Tollison spoke of the return on the investment made by the state in early education and how it projects toward a better future for the students. Other stats Tollison included were the improvement of average ACT scores, the high school graduation rate and Mississippi students’ increased performance in national math and reading standards.
Tollison discussed an “outdated” funding system (MAEP) and a way he hopes to achieve a solution to budgetary issues. Tollison has worked with EdBuild, a consulting company who specializes in educational funding, and how they would attempt to change the way Mississippi public schools receive funds. EdBuild has assessed the situation and recommend certain changes, including a 5 percent tax that would raise funding on the local level.
“With MAEP, there is no incentive to achieve cost savings because it’s based on your past spending,” Tollison said. “It’s inconsistent state-wide… I’m not sure if it will get done, but I think we need to discuss it so people can understand the issues relating to funding our schools.”
While everyone agreed that the achievements were notable, the issue that arose this morning is the manner in which the public schools are funded. With a potential $200-million deficit looming, the conservation will continue to grow. EdBuild would replace MAEP, and local communities would be responsible for a larger portion of the funding of schools, as well as reward schools for higher performance.
Rep. Jay Hughes spoke about how certain communities don’t have a tax base that can support this increase. While Hughes acknowledged that politicians “agree on more than they disagree on,” there is a fundamental difference between their views on funding education. Hughes strongly opposed the switch from MAEP and believes that putting the tax increase in poor communities would be more harmful than helpful.
“Administrative costs are not the problem; the problem is a lack of money. You can’t have ‘skin in the game’ [a term used by Tollison earlier] when you have no more skin to give. A strong public school equals a strong community, one begets the other,” Hughes said. “I’m concerned for all the public schools shifting the taxes from the state to the county. [It’s] not the way I see it because it’s a tax increase, no matter how you slice it and many communities can’t support it. The fiscal responsibility side of me says no, why don’t we fund what we have and see if that works. I believe we all benefit when we take everyone who comes through the door, not just those who serve a profit-oriented goal.”
After “Eggs and Issues” ended, Sen. Tollison spoke to HottyToddy.com about his proposal to move away from MAEP.
“The overall concept of going to a student-weighted formula to an input-based formula will be challenging, but I do think it’s a better program. It’s fair across the board, and a child shouldn’t be penalized because of the zip code they live in, and that’s what were trying to do, is be equitable,” Tollison said.
Afterward, Hughes reiterated his belief in the current system and was critical of EdBuild’s plan to overhaul MAEP.
“If we fully funded MAEP, every school in Mississippi could be adequately funded. EdBuild’s plan is nothing more than a step backward toward segregation. It allows families with the available resources just to leave failing schools and go to a better one, but children without the proper means of transportation or parents who care are left behind,” Hughes said.
Education was the hot topic, and just one speaker took the conversion elsewhere. Rep. Tray Lamar spoke of Mississippi’s ailing infrastructure. He spoke of the need for a $6.6 billion investment in 4,000 bridges and 38,000 miles of road that need upkeep and even replacement in certain areas.
Oxford Mayoral Candidate Robyn Tannehill spoke about the state of Mississippi education after the event and hopes that a resolution can be found, as she has stated her disdain for party politics.
“Our best solutions on every level come when people put personal agendas aside, and all come to the table to talk about what’s best for our communities while leaving politics at the door,” Tannehill said. “I think we have good leaders in Jackson who are capable of doing just that, and I hope that they can come together and find solutions in the next few months.”
Some “Eggs and Issues” attended left a bit underwhelmed by the discussion and its heavy focus on one issue rather than a broader agenda. Oxford Police Chief Joey East recognized that education is important, but said there are other issues that certain areas face that need to be addressed.
“It seems the focus this year is on education; so I was informed on that,” East said. “However, they’re talking about a lot of poverty states, and I don’t know that they’re doing a lot to clean the crime up in those areas. So, I’d like to know what they’re going to do about that because education’s not going to stop the crime.”
No matter what side someone is on, “Eggs and Issues” was a chance to hear the elected officials of our state discuss the issues that affect everyone. Chairman of the Chamber, Ryan Miller, was excited to see a large crowd that was ready to engage in a discussion about these topics.
“This has been one of the better turnouts we’ve seen. We do have some big issues in Jackson that people are passionate about. So, this was a great opportunity for everyone to hear and articulate these issues, and [it] gave us a lot to think about,” Miller said.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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