Funding Losing Pace with Rising Education Costs

Rotarian Delane Adams asked fellow Rotarian Alfred Simmons to give a report on the school system to the local Rotary club Oct. 18.

One million dollars sounds like a lot of money, especially around a small parish like Winn. The problem is that this figure is actually a 20-year drop in state funding for local salaries, demonstrating how “flat” state support of the local school system has remained over these past two decades.

Supt. Alfred Simmons spoke to Winnfield Rotarians on October 18 and highlighted his presentation with a quote from a space movie.  “Wow, we’re taking this ship into space!” crowed the astronaut back to earth.  “No,” came the reply from NASA.  “Money is taking you into space.”

Much in the same way, Simmons said, without money, a school system cannot be expected to go up.  While there are various taxes and grants that bring in funding to the parish system to build a $25 million budget, most are earmarked so the system relies heavily on the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) to pay mostly for salaries.

Twenty years ago, the legislative MFP was $3,459 per pupil when Winn’s student population stood around 2,400.  That’s about $8.3 million.  The MFP figure today is only slightly higher at $4,015 but student numbers are down to near 1,800, bringing in $7.25 million.  Add to that funding slump is the reality of  increases over that same period in gas, utilities, equipment, vehicles, insurance, salaries and more, Simmons suggested.  His term for that longterm legislative support was “flat.”

Asked about federal assistance, the superintendent replied that much of the one-time federal money (like COVID funds) is rolling off the books this year and it will likely be less in the future.  Some comes in the form of grants to pay for specific programs.  He noted that “the feds don’t send you money.  They send you access to money.”

Simmons holds out some hope in the current election cycle.  The new year will bring in a new governor and some new legislators as well as BESE board members.  Perhaps they will see the need to invest in education.  “The education of our children ought to be our greatest investment.”