/School funding revisions move forward in Senate

School funding revisions move forward in Senate

Mississippi News Nonprofit The Senate pushed through a school funding rewrite to clear another hurdle Tuesday, when members passed it from the Education Committee. House Bill 957 was passed by voice vote. It now heads to the Senate for final passage. The bill would repeal the current funding formula for Mississippi, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. It would replace it with one that is based on student characteristics. The new funding mechanism would take two years to implement. Critics of the revision claim that it is too complicated and has unanswered questions to be passed as is. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) presented the Senate’s version to a packed audience. The bill was presented to the committee on Friday. The Senate version is similar to the House bill. It provides a $4,800 base cost for general education students and adds funding or weights for special education students or English language learners. Tollison stated that the Senate version calculates each district’s funding for low income students using a three year average of U.S. Census poverty rates. This will allow for smoother changes and greater predictability. Tollison stated that the public has lost confidence in MAEP. He suggested that if they are interested in funding K-12 education, they should support the bill. It is transparenter and more understandable. The bill was opposed by Sen. David Blount, a Jackson Democrat, who disagreed. He said that the problem isn’t that people have lost faith in MAEP but that they have lost trust in the Legislature. Blount stated that the idea that this process has been open and transparent is false. The bill includes some ideas from EdBuild, a New Jersey-based consultant who was hired by the Legislature for recommendations about a new funding formula. These recommendations were made in January 2017, but the Legislature did not take any action last year. Republican leaders repeatedly stated that the recommendations had been available for over a year. Therefore, the contents of HB957 shouldn’t be surprising. Blount stated that simply putting a consultant’s conceptual paper online is not sufficient public input. Senator David Jordan, D. Greenwood, stated that comparing the funding districts should receive under MAEP to what they receive with EdBuild’s recommendations, “at the end-of-the day we lose money, and this is assuming we fully fund them every year.” MAEP was fully funded only twice since 1997. In October, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature was not required to fully fund MAEP. Jordan stated that while I agree that MAEP needs some work, throwing it out the window to get something with less resources is like stepping into the past backwards.