BY: Geoff Pender

But Mississippi’s program is underfunded.

Of course it’s underfunded. Look around. Everything in Mississippi is underfunded.

That’s been the rallying cry — justifiably so, in most cases — around Mississippi’s public education system for decades, and it will continue to be for more. But it’s also become a crutch and a political football. And in this case, it’s a little more spurious than others.

Superintendents and lawmakers pushing to delay teaching third-graders to read before passing them to fourth point to Florida and have repeatedly said the Sunshine State has spent $1 billion on its program, while Mississippi is only spending $15 million.

Florida, which has nearly six times as many students as Mississippi, funded its program at $10 million the first year. But its schools shifted other money and resources around to help start it. Contrary to what has been said in legislative floor debate in Mississippi, Florida has never fully funded reading coaches for all its schools. It started the program by first focusing resources on the worst schools, as is the plan here.

For Mississippi to match, per capita, Florida’s literacy promotion program, we’d have to spend $25 million a year. We’re at $15 million. That goal is attainable. State agencies spend $30 million to $40 million in travel to conferences and seminars — I’m just saying.

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