October 28, 2020

Opinion: State auditor asks good questions on education funding

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White is not afraid to ruffle feathers when it comes to protecting taxpayer dollars.

Less than a year after being appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant, White has made headlines after launching investigations into stolen and misused government funds. Since starting in July 2018, White has investigated everything from the spending of the former Director of Accounting and Finance at the Mississippi Board of Animal Health to the payment of employees in the Lincoln County Chancery Clerk’s office.

Most recently White issued a report examining the rise of spending in school administration in the state’s K-12 schools compared to the spending on classroom instruction.

White’s three-page report suggests that spending on school administration rose 17.7 percent in the last decade while spending on instruction rose 10.6 percent — even when the state has seen an overall decline in K-12 student enrollment.

Such numbers are not surprising in our corner of the state. A 2017 investigation of similar spending in the Natchez-Adams School District revealed that despite losing more than one-quarter of its enrollment in the last decade, the school district’s annual expenses rose by nearly $3 million in the same period. Much of the increase was due to a 20% rise in non-instructional expenses. Since releasing his report, White has been under fire from supporters of the state’s adequate education program, accusing White of creating cover for Republican lawmakers who they say passed an inadequate $1,500 pay raise for teachers.

White’s critics charge the state auditor of ignoring inflation and of suggesting federal money be used for purposes other than what they were intended to make his argument. Many of the points made by White’s critics may be valid and deserve to be studied and openly debated.

From our standpoint, White is doing the right thing asking questions. Because without asking questions, we will never know the answers and will never move past the status quo — even if it ruffles a few feathers along the way.

This editorial was originally published in The Natchez Democrat newspaper.