Mississippi’s education funding rewrite back up for discussion

The MAEP formula rewrite continues to progress.

The Senate Education Committee met earlier today to discuss the bill and they were able to ask questions, review portions of the bill and examine the new formula with Rebecca Sibilia, the founder of EdBuild.

EdBuild was brought in by the state to provide recommendations for the rewrite of the public education funding formula, and the House bill was largely based on those guidelines. The formula operates as a student-based system which lawmakers say will be a more efficient way to get resources to students and ensure the funds reach the classroom.

Related: Lawmakers divided over new public education funding formula

“The entire premise of this proposal is to provide 100% flexibility to school districts to innovate and provide the programming that they believe is best for their students,” Sibilia said.

The base cost per student will be $4,800, but weights will provide additional funds for students with specific needs across the state. Gifted students, special needs students, and English-language learning students are among the groups that will receive a weight.

In the evaluation of MAEP, it was determined that it costs more to educate students in low-income areas, and Chairman of the Senate Education Committee Sen. Gray Tollison says this formula would double the amount of funding those students would receive from $62 million to just under $124 million.

An additional weight will be given to all high school students, which Tollison says can be used however the school sees fit as they attempt to fill needs in local communities.

“It’s left to the locals how that high school weight is used, maybe they want to use it on more AP classes or career technical education,” Tollison said. “We just want to make sure that they are given the weight, which is 30%, and then they decide what they want to emphasize.”

Tollison opened the meeting by stating that major changes to the House bill were unlikely before the bill makes its way onto the Senate floor for consideration. He did go on to say that some clarifications could be made. No matter what changes are made, Tollison noted that this formula will help parents understand how their children’s schools are funded.

“Parents need to know how their schools are funded and these weights are a better way to do that,” he added.

Senator David Blount opposes the bill and says that a new formula doesn’t fix the funding issue that MAEP has faced. Since its introduction in 1997, the formula has been fully funded just twice.

“The bottom-line is, we have a good formula and we just need to fund it,” Blount said. “The promises made in this formula are all dependent on the political decisions that the legislature makes on how much money we’re going to spend. So, is this formula really going to increase funding and provide funding more fairly, or is it really just a political cover?”

Blount does agree that the weights are a positive step in this formula, but questions whether or not the additional funds will make their way to the right places.

“Once the school district gets that money, it’s spent at the local level; the way the local people decide. In other words, if you get a weight for English-language learners, there’s nothing in this bill that makes you spend more on English-language learners,” Blount said. “I don’t think there’s any difference between the new formula and the current formula in that regard. Those decisions are made on the local level, by local school boards and superintendents. That’s the way it’s done now, and that’s the way it’ll be done if this bill passes.”

During the meeting, the committee discussed that the enrollment numbers will continue to be audited across the state to ensure that districts aren’t trying to receive more funds based on false numbers.

This bill passed through the House in late January, and the Senate committee will likely discuss it one more time before it moves to the Senate floor. The deadline to move the bill to the floor is next Tuesday.