/Fast-tracked school funding bill sparks questions, concerns

Fast-tracked school funding bill sparks questions, concerns

Nonprofit Mississippi News Although there are still many questions about the potential rewrite to Mississippi’s school funding formulas, the House is quickly moving the bill through the legislative process. House Bill 957 was discussed by legislators, educators, and advocates for education in a packed Capitol room Monday afternoon. It is titled the “Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act 2018”. The bill, which Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) authored, would eliminate the Mississippi Adequate Education Programme (MAEP) and create a new weighted formula that gives extra funding to certain types of students. Democrats have criticized Gunn’s 354-page bill, which he filed late last Thursday. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the House Appropriations Committee. The proposed formula will allow school districts to decide how much money they get based on enrollment figures and not average daily attendance. For every student in grades K-12 there is a base cost of $4,800. Additional money or weights are added depending on the students’ individual characteristics. Students with special education diagnoses, low income status, gifted students, and students over the age of 18 are included in these weights. High school students receive $6,240. Special education students would be eligible for weighted funding. This could range from $7,680 up to $8,160, depending on their diagnosis. Each rural student would also receive an additional 10% from the state. Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach), Chairman of the House Education Committee, stated Monday that an initial “hold harmless” provision would be in place. This would mean that any district that loses money under the new funding formula will retain their current appropriation for a period of two years. He said that the bill will give each district autonomy over how it spends the money it receives as long as they follow any federal or state laws or regulations that require funds to be used in specific programs. Bennett stated that “they know their needs better than we as legislators.” “With a student-focused funding formula, districts should have the freedom to spend as they see fit for their students.” Bennett stated that he was unsure from where the additional $107 million would come from. However, this figure is lower than if the MAEP formula were fully paid. Bennett stated that MAEP funding is not realistic. “It’s the formula that the Democrats created but couldn’t fund… it’s unrealistic. It’s not going to get funded.” Democratic Senator Hob Bryan of Amory resisted that statement and told reporters after the meeting that MAEP was a bipartisan effort. Later, he provided reporters with a copy the vote total for April 1997 and circled names of Republicans who voted to establish MAEP. Bryan, one of the most vocal critics of the lack of transparency in the funding rewrite bill’s funding, compared HB 957 as a vampire. Bryan said that the MAEP law outlines exactly how much money a particular district must operate. He said that even though the Legislature didn’t finance it, that doesn’t change the fact that they have the money they need. Although the bill contains many of the recommendations that EdBuild, a nonprofit based in New Jersey, presented to the Legislature last Jan., it does not include all of them. Bennett, a Democratic Rep. Steve Holland (D-Plantersville), asked Bennett if it would be prudent for the public and legislators to have a week to review the bill’s contents. He replied that it was better to proceed. He stated that he believes the bill is already out there, EdBuild has been here for one year. Bryan stated that the bill was not in existence until Thursday. “There has not been one public meeting, no single open discussion about how this formula was being constructed from the beginning.” Although the bill stated that the legislation would be in effect once it is passed, Bennett later told reporters that it would not take effect until 2019. 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. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.