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Legislators say no tax hikes to cover education funding changes

JACKSON, MISS– The joint legislative appropriations and education committees met Monday to receive recommendations on how to change the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula. 

The nonprofit EdBuild suggested various solutions to the state’s current funding system.

The organization said a “weighted-student” formula, or student-centered formula, was the best bet for Mississippi students. The formula would increase the base of pay per student by evaluating factors such as special needs, low-income, at-risk, and those with English language difficulties.

One suggestion that riled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was to decrease the state’s responsibility for funding, currently at 73 percent, and increase the responsibility on the local level.

Senator Hob Bryan said that local school districts are already pressed.

“The existing district is as flexible as it can be. Does she propose that somehow we trace every dollar to some individual student in the district and keep up with that?” said Sen. Bryan. “They’re going to take away money from school districts, because she mentions phasing in the losses.”

EdBuild suggested a five to eight year phase in of any changes that are made, to lessen the blow on the school districts.

Representative Andy Gipson was supportive of EdBuild’s recommendations, but in a way that won’t place an additional burden on the local tax level.

“We don’t want to have just a wholesale shift of the tax burden from the state to the local level,” said Rep. Gipson. “And I’m going on record, I’m not going for any net tax increase.”

Rep. Tom Miles echoed the sentiment, and said no one wants to see a tax increase, in either party.

“Some of the costs could be passed back down to a rural school district,” said Rep. Miles. “which could add to a local tax increase through ad valorem taxes, car tag (price) increases, or property tax increases.”

The other concern from lawmakers was that smaller school districts, if faced with increased education costs, would have to consolidate.

“If you’re talking about just mass consolidation, or just cherry-picking those, you’re looking at going back to where we were in 1972 with disproportionate funding,” said Rep. Jay Hughes.

While some fear school consolidation is possible, EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia said that isn’t in the cards.

“We wouldn’t be making a recommendation to provide additional resources to rural school districts if we were trying to force further consolidation,” said Sibilia.

There are currently 148 school districts in Mississippi.

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