- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - New state Superintendent Carey Wright is emphasizing more money for state-funded preschool and to improve literacy instruction in early grades.

But she said Tuesday that doesn’t mean she’s giving up on full funding for Mississippi’s school funding formula.

Wright, who was named to lead the state’s K-12 schools last year, made her annual funding pitch to the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

Lawmakers would have to allot $2.35 billion to pay the amount called for by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is supposed to provide enough money for the state’s 151 districts. Funding would have to rise by $265 million from the current year to the 2015 budget to meet that level, an increase even Wright acknowledges is a tall order.

“We do need full funding of MAEP and that’s going to cost a lot of money,” Wright said to reporters afterward.

Lawmakers have only satisfied the formula’s demands twice since it was created. Over six years since 2009, when the recession began to eat into tax collections, the state has come up $1.27 billion short of full funding.

Wright pushed to expand Mississippi’s fledgling program to fund local groups that operate prekindergarten classes. The Department of Education is seeking to double that money to $6 million in the 2015 budget. She said that helping all children get ready for school will boost academic achievement later.

“Then by the time they enter kindergarten, I’m not going to have to spend as much time remediating,” she said. “I’ll be able to hit the ground running so to speak.”

Last year, lawmakers set up a program requiring all third graders to read on a basic level starting in 2015 before being promoted to fourth grade. The state Board of Education wants funding for that program to expand from $9.5 million to $15 million to train more teachers and hire more literacy coaches to help struggling schools.

“I want to make sure our teachers have the professional development they need,” said Wright, who will face a Senate confirmation sometime before the legislative session ends in early April.


Follow Jeff Amy at https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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