- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

July 7

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on higher education:

Raising the price of tuition and fees at nine of Mississippi’s 15 community colleges is keeping with a trend of higher education costs trickling down to the consumers, especially those who pay their own way.

Statewide, tuition at both two- and four-year schools continues to rise faster than inflation and personal income growth.

On average, a community college student this coming year will be charged $2,577 for two semesters of full-time classes. At Mississippi Delta Community College, which opted to hold tuition unchanged, the price is slightly lower than that.

Community college remains, though, a good deal compared to a four-year university. And those students with financial need qualify for a combination of scholarships and other assistance to make their attendance possible.

That assistance may be a two-edged sword, however. The more of it that’s out there, the more the colleges and universities seem unrestrained in raising their costs




July 4

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on the BP oil spill settlement:

We’re pleased this phase of the BP oil disaster is behind us. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood were on the Coast on Thursday to announce they were bringing to the state about $1.5 billion of the latest $18.7 billion settlement with the energy giant.

We think Mississippi should have received more than 8 percent of the money BP will pay for environmental and economic damage caused by the 2010 oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. But the state has already received $659 million, and a total of $2.2 billion could go a long way toward undoing the damage caused by the catastrophe.


If we all remain diligent. We are hopeful our state officials will spend the money wisely and for the purposes it is intended. But we and others stand ready to verify how and where and with whom it is spent.

We believe we have reason to worry.

One word that was strangely absent in the settlement announcement Thursday was “transparency.” That’s strange because we were personally promised a transparent process when it comes to spending the windfall.

But that was a promise made by Trudy Fisher, who is no longer director of the Department of Environmental Quality.

Now we find the well-worn shroud of secrecy has already begun to fall.

The court filings, reported the Associated Press, have a confidentiality order that bars any of the parties from going into specifics. So, it appears the details will be worked out in secret.

Eventually, the state will decide exactly how much of the settlement will go to environmental restoration and how much to economic development. That vagueness is troubling given the state’s reputation for misspending by previous regimes at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Going forward, we’d like to see an easy-to-use website that lists all projects, the contractors involved in them, the amounts being paid and their progress. It should have all the requests for bids or proposals, too. Put it all under the heading “where the money is going.”

GoCoast 20/20 was the commission Bryant created to “establish a vision” for spending the money. It did a great deal of good work, but now its website is outdated. For example, Fisher is still listed as a member and as working for DEQ.

She has been replaced at that agency. Bill Walker, former DMR director, is listed as a member. He’s in federal prison.

It’s hard to take that site seriously. And taxpayers shouldn’t have to bounce back and forth from GoCoast to RESTORE to NOAA to Transparency websites to track down vital information. But they are.

“As these funds make their way to the Gulf Coast, it is important for citizens across the nation to hold our leaders accountable to ensure meaningful restoration for our communities and environment come first,” wrote Jordan Macha, Gulf policy analyst with Gulf Restoration Network, in an email shortly after the settlement was announced.

We agree and we welcome the help.

This money should be regarded as a sacred trust belonging to the people of the Coast who suffered significant ecological and economic loss because of BP’s spill. They deserve transparency, accountability and justice in the dispensing of the funds.




July 7

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on unmet funding promises:

New financial figures released by the 42 for Better Schools group Monday shows, district by district, through the upcoming 2015-2016 academic year, a cumulative $1.7 billion shortfall over seven years, impacting and effectively weakening every school district.

The Legislature passed a law in 1997 that promised each public school district in Mississippi would receive enough financial support to adequately fund every K-12 education program in our state. But our Legislature has gone back on the promise, only fully funding public schools twice in nearly 20 years.

The chart, divided by county and then by district, provides equivalents in numbers of teachers’ positions that could have been funded, computers purchased, buses bought and other measures.

The Legislature has not funded the nearly $1.7 billion to some 150 school districts during the past seven years, in 2008 during the Haley Barbour administration. It was funded one other time under the Ronnie Musgrove administration.

A sampling of impacts in some Northeast Mississippi school districts shows the magnitude of the funding shortage:

. Tupelo - $23.6 million, 79,000 computers, or 69 teachers for 10 years.

. Lee County - $25.1 million, 84,000 computers, or 73 teachers for 10 years.

. Pontotoc City - $8.4 million, 28,000 computers or 25 teachers for 10 years.

. Pontotoc County - $13.1 million, 44,000 computers, or 38 teachers for 10 years.

. Itawamba County - $13.1 million, 44,000 computers, or 38 teaches for 10 years.

The map offers the latest information to support passage of Initiative 42, on the Nov. 3 ballot as a constitutional amendment to require the Legislature to keep the law it passed in 1997.

Examined statewide, the equivalent figures place in perspective the enormity of the financial crunch schools face - threatening higher local taxes, on top of what’s already levied, to cover necessities and maintain quality.

The result is $1.7 billion statewide, enough money to pay for:

. 4,871 first-year teachers for 10 years, or

. 16.7 million textbooks, or

. 4,555 reading coaches for 10 years, or

. 5.6 million computers, or

. 17,634 school buses

Initiative 42 will appear on the ballot because nearly 200,000 Mississippians petitioned, as required, for a vote on school funding in light of legislative and executive failure to get the job done.



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