Nonprofit Mississippi News On Wednesday, EdBuild and the House Democratic Caucus met to discuss the new school funding formula that lawmakers will consider. However, some were skeptical about the data used in these calculations. Rep. Jarvis Dortch (D-Raymond) questioned the figures showing that Clinton Public School District had fewer students living in poverty than Hinds County. Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild CEO, explained that the group used data from the U.S. Census to correlate them with the number students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Sibilia stated that the Census data doesn’t include students who go to private schools, but Dortch disagreed. However, she suggested that lawmakers verify all numbers, including enrollments, with their local superintendents in order to confirm the accuracy of data provided by the Mississippi Department of Education. Sibilia’s team was hired by the legislature last year for $250,000. They were to make recommendations about a new school funding formula. Sibilia stated to a packed room of legislators and educators that too much of the school funding costs are borne by the state in January 2017. The group will be back in January at no additional cost to the state to run numbers according to Speaker Philip Gunn’s scenario. This scenario only includes some EdBuild suggestions. Sibilia spoke much more freely than last year and did not hide her opposition to the key component of Gunn’s funding scenario. Sibilia stated that Gunn asked her to calculate if a formula would be funded at a $4,800 per pupil cost, while keeping the 27 percent rule in the Mississippi Adequate Educational Program, which is the state’s current school funding formula. The 27 percent rule stipulates that no school district will bear more than 27 per cent of the cost for public education. This forces the state to fund property-rich districts, which some argue could raise funds via local taxes. Many rank-and-file legislators complained that the proposal to eliminate or modify the 27 per cent rule last year would force their districts to increase local taxes in order to keep the same school budget. Gunn and other legislators were concerned about the potential impact on local districts, which led Gunn to postpone a formal proposal to overhaul the school funding formula for last year’s session. The remainder of the formula is the same as last year’s EdBuild recommendation, but with specific weights or additional funds for students with special needs and gifted students. Gunn’s student cost is close to what EdBuild recommended last summer ($4,840), but it falls short of the current formula, which has a base student cost of $5381.52, as stated in the appropriations bill that was passed last session. However, the base cost of students was lower because the Legislature failed to fully fund it. Sibilia stated, however, that she strongly opposed keeping the 27 percent rule. This allows property-rich districts to receive money through the state, but could be made up with local funds. Sibilia stated that the 27 percent rule should be eliminated. Gunn wasn’t available Wednesday afternoon for questions regarding the numbers or any possible legislation. The state would receive $120 million, or $240 per student, if the 27 percent rule was removed. Pascagoula and Madison County, Lowndes Countys, Rankin County, and Choctaw County are the districts that most benefit from the 27 percent rule. Pascagoula School district, for instance, gets $17.8million in state funding that it wouldn’t receive without the rule. Sibilia stated that Gunn’s new formula would have $107 million more in school funding over the 5-year phase-in. Schools will see an additional $50 million in the first year of its implementation. Many lawmakers pointed out that the amount is still below the MAEP’s full funding requirements. Jay Hughes, D.Oxford, stated that the spreadsheet showing numbers broken down by school districts is meaningless as there has not been any legislation. Hughes also criticised the fact that EdBuild does not recommend a recalculation each year of the base student costs (4,800). Hughes stated that if we have a fixed base of $4800 plus multipliers, then it is up to the Legislature to decide what funding to award each year. Hughes stated that there is no guarantee that funding will be available in each district. However, Sibilia said that the base student cost should not be changed “based on what’s happening at the school level and taking into account the demographics of those students.” Monday is the deadline to file bills. To support this work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. 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