Democrats: Details needed on school funding proposal

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Zachary Oren Smith, Mississippi Today

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory

Democratic legislators said Tuesday that they need more specifics on what a new school funding formula proposed by the EdBuild consulting group would look like in dollar amounts.

“We need to have detailed analysis of the impact on school districts … before any legislation is introduced to the process,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson.

EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia outlined a proposal to shift state education funding to a weighted student formula in a public presentation on Monday.

Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Jean Cook said Tuesday that MDE has not been in communication with EdBuild about running the numbers from the firm’s recommendations to find out concrete dollar amounts under a new formula. Sibilia said the overall amount of state spending on education would stay the same, but some districts would get less money while others get more.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, a co-author of the current state funding formula that was passed into law in 1997, led a discussion about the proposal among Democrats on Tuesday. Bryan explained that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) was created to achieve two goals: adequacy and equity of education across the state.

Bryan also emphasized that the goal was to take the burden off local taxpayers and shift more of the burden to the state, a characteristic Sibilia highlighted as something lawmakers should reconsider.

Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest, asked if he was correct in his understanding that while Republican legislative leaders say their goal is to get more money in the classroom, all MAEP funds currently go toward teacher and other instructional personnel’s salaries.

“If you look at teacher salaries and salaries of those in the classroom with the teachers, the total amount of money being spent on those salaries exceeds the total contribution of the MAEP,” Bryan confirmed.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have both condemned increased administrative spending in K-12, but Bryan said that issue is not addressed by the formula.

“If anybody has arguments with how money in school district is being spent, the argument is with the local school board,” Bryan said, noting districts receive a lump sum each year with no rules regarding how much can or cannot be spent on administration.

Blount questioned why the recommendations were made with little input from teachers, superintendents, principals and parents.

Legislators held one public comment session with EdBuild in November and also set up school visits in the metro area, on the Gulf Coast and in the Delta.