District eye suit to fund MAEP

news-court-crime-stockHOULKA – Chickasaw County School Board Trustees were told the state owes them $1.9 million and a lawsuit will soon be filed seeking to make the state fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Attorney Dustin Childers, of Booneville, met with trustees last week and said parties to the suit need to sign on by July 31. He also said if the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, only those who are part of the suit will be paid. “Litigation should never be entered into lightly, and I am not looking to push this on anyone,” said Childers. “By all means please look at this and see if you want to be part of this.” Trustees took the matter under advisement and took no action at their July 7, meeting. The Houston School District has chosen not to be party to the suit. The Okolona School District has joined the suit. “Our trustees are looking to the ballot initiative that is in the works that could force the state to fully fund MAEP,” said Houston School Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker. “We were advised by our attorney that there are repercussions with any lawsuit. I don’t see us joining this suit.” Coker did say the state needs to fully fund MAEP. He said Houston schools have been underfunded by MAEP to the tune of about $1 million over the past four years. Okolona Superintendent Dexter Green said Okolona has been underfunded by MAEP approximately $70,000 since the legislation was signed in 1997. “We have heating and cooling issues in our school and buildings that are in disrepair,” said Green. “Our board has worked very hard to fund issues related to the classroom and students, but our students are doing without. The state needs to fully fund MAEP.” Lawmakers gave teachers a $1,500 raise this year costing the state $65 million, but did not fully fund MAEP. In 1997, the Legislature voted to enact and fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The MAEP funding formula has been described as complex, but it is based on a principle – determine what is adequate to educate a child and provide state funds to accomplish that task. Under the formula, more affluent districts are expected to provide a greater share of local property taxes to accomplish the task than poorer districts. MAEP has been fully funded twice – 2003 and 2007, both election years. “Based on the language in the statute that the ‘Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Fund’ we believe this suit can be successful,” said Childers. “I know people are also threatening consolidation and we feel your district would have been better able to serve students if they had been adequately funded.” Childers said districts will not be held liable for attorney fees if they are unsuccessful in this suit. He also said if the suit is successful the state would be given three years to pay districts back. Childers also pointed out the state has excess funds and spent $100 million on tax breaks to existing businesses this year. “That was to their buddies and existing businesses,” said Childers. “Not to new businesses for new jobs. We think litigation is the only way to get the state to fully fund MAEP.”

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