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November 5, 2013

Touted colleges getting shortchanged

MERIDIAN — Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn is one of the few Speakers to get out and about to talk with and listen to voters. Last week he showed up in Scooba to keynote East Mississippi Community College’s annual Business and Industry Appreciation Day.

    The Speaker said he didn’t know much about community colleges when he was first elected to the House ten years ago. But since then, he said, he has visited colleges, participated in industry recruitment, and observed the crucial roles community colleges play.

    Noting that while 20 percent of jobs in America require university degrees, 60 percent require skills taught by community colleges, the Speaker said, “And Mississippi has one of the best, if not the best, community college systems in America.”

    He touted the key role community colleges play in providing Mississippi an educated workforce, emphasizing “that’s the first thing industry asks about.”  And he touted EMCC’s success in building a workforce training program that attracts industry, telling WTOK-TV, “This college has done a great job. They're producing top quality graduates. We see that in the number of businesses that are coming to this region.”

    What the Speaker didn’t tout, or mention, was how the Legislature shortchanges community colleges when it comes to education funding.

    For fiscal year 2014, the Legislature appropriated $2,062.5 million in state funds for support of public schools, $384.6 million in support for universities, and $240.1 million in support for community colleges.  

    While public schools serve 492,847 students, universities and community colleges serve about the same number of students – 80,532 for universities and 77,661 for community colleges.

    Dividing state funding support by the number of students served yields these figures: $4,185 per student for public schools, $4,776 per student for universities, but just $3,092 per student for community colleges.

    Why such a gap?

    The Legislature also issues bonds for the benefit of universities and community colleges. For this fiscal year, the Legislature provided $96.5 million for all eight universities, but only $25 million for all 15 community colleges.

    Why this discrepancy?

    The Legislature also sets the rules for what cities and counties can do to support public education.

    For public schools, cities and counties must levy a minimum of 28 mills in ad valorem taxes. Additionally, local school boards may dictate that cities and counties levy additional mills up to a cap of 55 mills.

    For community colleges, counties must levy only two mills in ad valorem taxes (one for operations and one for capital improvements). Community college boards may ask for additional mills, but counties don’t have to provide it. Also, total local mills for community colleges are capped at six mills and few counties provide all six.

    Why so little required for community college support?

    Hmmm.

 

    Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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