Monthly Archives: February 2012

Does Mississippi really spend too little on education?

This question was very far from my mind when I looked up the state’s budget last night. At the time, I was merely curious if I could find the source of the state’s budget crises. Well, what I found was very shocking to say the least. According to The Sunshine Review, the state of Mississippi currently has a debt of approximately $38.2 billion (when calculated by adding the total of outstanding official debt, pension and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liabilities, Unemployment Trust Fund loans, and the budget gap.)

In the fiscal year of 2011, $4.4 billion was spent at the state level. $2.6 billion of that $4.4 billion was spent on education (that’s more than 50% of state spending). At the local level, however, this number is even more outstanding with $13.1 billion being spent in the fiscal year of 2011, and $5 billion of that $13.1 billion was spent on education. Total spending at the local and state level was $17.5 billion, with total spending on education at both the local and state level being $7.6 of that $17.5 billion. That’s 43% of total spending in the year 2011. So the general consensus within the mainstream that Mississippi isn’t spending enough on education couldn’t be farther from reality than it is.

So why do people hold this position? Well, for starters, according to many statistics (The Huffington Post being one of those, which I’ll link here), Mississippi is one of the worst states, educationally, in the country. These statistics are correct, but is that due to there not being enough spending in education? According to the Huffington Post (which I linked above), Massachusetts ranked at #1 in the country in Math and Science in the year 2011. According to The Sunshine Review, Massachusetts, in the fiscal year of 2011, spent $29.4 billion at the state level, while only $5.7 billion of that $29.4 billion was spent on education. At the local level, however, Massachusetts spent $38.6 billion dollars, while only $12.4 billion of that $38.6 billion was spent on education. Total education spending in the year 2011 (the same year that Massachusetts ranked 1st in education) equaled $18.1 billion out of the $68 billion that was spent in total. That’s 30.1% of total spending. Now you might look at this and say, “see, Massachusetts is spending more on education and they’re ranked first!”, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The population of Mississippi, according to the Population Estimate of 2011 (which you can find here), was 2,978,512. The population of Massachusetts, which you can find in the same link, was estimated to be 6,587,536. The reason I’m pointing this out is because of the fact that when you have a higher population, more money is going to be spent by default. If you look at the population numbers closely, and compare them to the money that is spent on education and total spending in general, you will see that the ratio of money being spent on education is consistent with the population of both Mississippi and Massachusetts. California is another example of this. California, according to the Population Estimate of 2011, has a population of 37,691,912. In the fiscal year of 2011, (click here for source), California spent $422.1 billion dollars, with $106.1 billion of that going to education (roughly 25%). According to the logic of the people who argue that the problem of education is that we don’t spend enough money on it, California would be ranked 1st, but instead, it was ranked 34th (below average) in 2011.

While the actual amount of money being spent is indeed greater in California and Massachusetts than it is in Mississippi (which is easily explained by the population count), the percentage of total spending that is devoted to education is significantly higher in Mississippi than it is in California and Massachusetts. One thing should be perfectly clear from all of this; there is a serious problem with education in Mississippi, but Mississippi can’t afford to continue throwing more money at the issue and expect things to get better. Structural changes must be made to the education system, and most importantly, parents have to be held more accountable. Because, in the end, parents are the ones who open the doors for education to be possible.