/Equitable funding, teacher pay top priorities at EdBuild hearing

Equitable funding, teacher pay top priorities at EdBuild hearing

At Thursday’s public hearing at Capitol, parents, teachers, and advocates for education spoke out about the importance of equitable and substantial funding for teachers and schools. The Legislature had hired EdBuild to review and possibly rewrite the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Members of the non-profit EdBuild listened and took notes. “There is a lot passion about public education. After the meeting, Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild CEO, stated that people are passionate about teachers. Although there was some criticism directed at the Legislature for not funding the current formula, there were many common themes among the speakers’ suggestions. * The first is to ensure that the new formula is fair or takes into consideration districts with a lower tax base in order to support their schools. * The second concern is to ensure teachers receive competitive wages. The third is transparency about the formula revision process, including the release of the contract with EdBuild. Porter Wells spoke on behalf her friend, a teacher in public schools, and said that the solution to the state’s education crisis begins with infrastructure. It’s not an easy task nor is it inexpensive. She said that students need shelter from the elements and safe spaces in the classroom to survive. Sibilia encouraged her and her team to visit poverty-stricken schools. Wells stated, “Anybody involved in school funding must physically visit failing schools and ask yourself: ‘Could I work in that environment?” Sibilia stated that Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will arrange visits for her and her staff at schools, but it’s unclear if they will include schools beyond the metropolitan area. Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Camille Lessig were absent from the hearing. Camille Lessig was a former teacher in public schools and echoed Wells’s sentiments about infrastructure needs. She asked, “Governor William Winter said, ‘The only way out of poverty is through the schoolhouse.’ But if that schoolhouse door is blown, the schoolhouse ceiling is falling in, and school house teachers become underpaid, overtrained, and overburdened, then how far can we really go?” Others emphasized the importance of a fair formula. “First, equity between school districts is crucial to the current MAEP formula. However, the legislature has defunded this provision year after year,” Cindy White, communications director for The Parents’ Campaign and mother to a Madison County school child, said. “Low-wealth school district cannot overcome the loss of state funding. Higher-wealth districts, such as mine, even have difficulty doing so. Others spoke more about the logistics of the meetings or the hiring process for EdBuild. Lewis Coleman from Madison suggested that more notice should be given before meetings are held. Others recommended more meetings in different parts of the state. Russ Latino (the state director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation) asked EdBuild for an objective look at school funding. He noted that although Mississippi ranks low in per-pupil expenditures compared to other states, it is higher in spending per-pupil proportionally to income. Latino stated that there was something missing in this discussion. He said that the context of what is important for taxpayers is what is missing. “Because although we can use a lot emotional rhetoric to want better and more, some of this is a mathematical equation.” Many people mentioned the “secrecy” of the Legislature’s refusal to release its contract for EdBuild. Carrie Barksdale stated that “Secrecy is not our friend.” “The process smells like a dead cow plant.” The next public meeting has not yet been scheduled, but people are encouraged to email input and suggestions to schoolfinance@ls.ms.gov.