Gunn: Special session likely for ed funding

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Kate Royals, Mississippi Today

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn in his office at the State Capitol.

House Speaker Philip Gunn signaled Tuesday that education funding will be addressed outside of the normal appropriations process this year.

A bill adopting a new education funding formula, along with a bill for education appropriations, will likely be introduced during a special session called at the Governor’s discretion, Gunn told reporters in an informal gathering in his office.

The special session process, which could take place within the regular session, would allow legislative leaders to develop a new school funding formula and then appropriate the money to fund it.

Normal legislative rules require appropriations bills to be passed out of their respective houses by Feb. 22.

The Legislature had bills addressing the education funding formula in the House and Senate, respectively, but they died on the calendar last Thursday after both houses failed to pass their own bills.

Gunn said legislators will have time to examine a new formula before they vote on it.

“You’ve got to give them time to look at it, see how their districts will be affected,” Gunn said. “It’s not going to be brought up Monday, voted on Tuesday.”

Uncertainty about the impact on local school districts prompted many legislators to advocate for slowing the process down on reworking the state’s funding formula for education. Democrats in particular have urged their colleagues to wait a year before acting on the issue.

With no specific proposal for changing the formula available yet, legislative leaders let the bills die last week. Gunn and others mentioned options to address the funding formula this year, including the appropriations process and a special session.

Legislative leadership hired New Jersey-based consultant EdBuild in October to assess and provide recommendations for changing the state’s current school funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. In January, EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia presented a 79-page report that recommended a weighted student funding formula.

Special needs students, English Language Learners, gifted, and the early and the later grades would receive additional resources under the EdBuild proposal. Other adjustments could be made for rural districts.

If the proposal was taken in full, more than 80 percent of school districts would receive an increase in funding compared to this year’s level of funding, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Legislative leaders such as Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said they will not be adopting all of the recommendations and that those that are adopted are likely to be phased in over several years at once.

“I think once we get it finalized and to a point where there is going to be a proposal that’s when people are going to begin to see how their districts are going to be affected,” Gunn said.