Weighing in on weighted school funding

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Lawmakers, lobbyists and education and community activists provided a standing room only crowd in the old Supreme Courtroom of the Capitol as they listen as Rebecca Sibilia, CEO of EdBuild, outlines the firms suggestions for revamping the state formula for funding public education.

 

Legislative leaders, eyeing a change to the state’s funding for public education, are evaluating approaches that will result in their expressed goal of putting more money in classrooms.

The recommendations made in January by New Jersey nonprofit EdBuild favored a switch by the state to a weighted student funding formula. That approach means the state sets a base cost to educate a student and adds additional funding for specific types of students.

The state currently uses a hybrid formula known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP. The formula uses both student-based and resource-based funding, meaning the amount of money is partly determined and distributed based on individual student characteristics and the other based on needed resources, such as staffing and supply levels.

The formula has been fully funded only twice in 20 years. If the Legislature fully-funded MAEP for the current school year, the base student cost would be $5,358 per student. However, the actual funding per student came out to $4,980.

The MAEP includes two factors that impact funding at the local level: the 28 mill requirement and the 27 percent requirement.

The law requires that local districts contribute at least 28 mills of assessed local property wealth, meaning $28 for every $1,000 of assessed property value in the school district. School districts are allowed to assess a higher tax rate up to 55 mills.

The 27 percent limit means that the local district is not required to provide more than 27 percent of the funds calculated through the MAEP formula. If the value of 28 mills is more than 27 percent of the total funding amount, the state provides the difference between the two amounts.

R.L. Nave, Mississippi Today

Rebecca Sibilia, chief-executive officer, of education consulting firm EdBuild, presents their findings to the House and Senate Education Committees.

In January, EdBuild provided a list of recommendations to address public education funding to the Legislature and suggested that the state bears too much of the share in school funding.

The 79-page EdBuild report recommended switching to a weighted formula, where a base cost is established for how much money it takes to educate an average student and additional weights are added to that amount for students with special needs, students in poverty and English Language Learners, among other categories.

In the presentation, EdBuild described Mississippi as “currently one of only six states with a funding model based on an assumption of resources needed rather than the individual needs of students.”

Many states use a “foundation funding” concept for their funding formula, said Mike Griffith, school finance strategist at Education Commission of the States. Gov. Phil Bryant was appointed chairman of the commission in December.

Foundation funding establishes a base amount of funding based on what general education students require, he said. Some states also use student-based budgeting, meaning districts are required to demonstrate that the money received for students with additional weights actually follows the students.

“Student-based budgeting is the idea that that money, if a kid gets ten percent extra for being at risk, you should prove he does get ten percent extra” in educational resources, Griffith said.

Earlier this year, Mississippi legislative leaders stressed that a formula rewrite is needed to better identify where federal, state and local dollars are being spent. Currently, school districts receive a lump sum.

EdBuild’s recommendations include both of those funding concepts, Griffith said.

He noted that EdBuild did not provide a specific formula for the Legislature to work with. The non-profit’s contract with the Legislature did not call for a formula; instead, EdBuild is expected to “provide data and policy analysis to identify the areas of improvement in the current state funding model and offer solutions related to new ways of allocating funds,” according to the scope of work document included in the consulting agreement.

EdBuild recommends the following weights for different categories of students, with a base student counting as 1:

• Low-income students: 1.25

• English-Language Learners: Between 1.15 and 1.25

• Special Education Students: 1.6 for students with low-level special needs; 2.25 for students with autism, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, intellectual disability; 2.7 for students with visual impairment, deaf-blindness, multiple disabilities and traumatic brain injury

• Gifted students: Between 1.2 and 1.26

• Early grades

• High school grades

“The EdBuild study was a little different than most other studies we see, because they actually construct a formula for the state,” Griffith said. “What the EdBuild study was was a list of recommendations, instead of creating an actual formula.”

Whether the Legislature chooses to adopt all of EdBuild’s recommendations or just a few, districts still need to know exactly how this will change their funding, Griffith said.

“If your state chooses three or four points, at some point your department of education will have to model this or figure out exactly what it will look like,” he said. “What’s the implication for each school district in the state?”

Indeed, in the wake of the EdBuild report, school officials in various school districts around the state ran some of their own projections. An Associated Press analysis of the recommendations found that about 80% of school districts would get more money if the EdBuild proposals were implemented. But even the AP analysis had to make some educated guesses about how money would be distributed.

Two states — Kentucky and Arkansas — that have gone to the weighted student formula provide some clues as to what awaits Mississippi’s school districts if such an approach is adopted here. The two states provide examples that the funding of public education has many variables, starting with a base student rate and the additional weights that can be added for specific categories, coupled with requirements for local support for the public schools.

Kentucky

Kentucky switched to a primarily student based and weighted model in 1990, after the state Supreme Court ruled the existing funding model unconstitutional. The Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990 changed many of the state’s education laws and put in place a new funding formula.

“There was a lot of inconsistency in how it (education) was funded across the state. That’s what KERA was trying to fix,” said Chay Ritter, branch manager of the district funding and reporting branch in Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Administration and Support.

Like Mississippi, districts are responsible for local effort — each one must provide 30 cents for every $100 in real estate, tangible property, and motor vehicles, Ritter said. Local school boards also levy taxes above the required minimum to increase the amount of local funding, he said.

The bluegrass state’s model, Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK), establishes a base amount of funding per student based on the prior school year’s average daily attendance (ADA) and assigns “add ons” based on the number of at-risk students, students receiving home and hospital instruction, students with disabilities, and limited English proficiency students in each district.

Andrew Krech, The Citizens' Voice via AP

Mississippi legislative leaders want a school funding formula that directs more resources to the classroom. 

The Kentucky Legislature sets the base cost per student and that figure is revised every two years as the state goes through a budget cycle, Ritter said. Currently, the base cost is $3,981 per student, he said.

“The question always is, is that enough, or is it too much?” Ritter said. “It’s hard to pin down a number that’s exactly what they (school districts) need to educate this kid.”

Districts receive additional funding through a series of weighted categories, according to a SEEK executive summary for the 2014-15 school year:

• At-risk: the average daily membership of students who qualify for free lunch is multiplied by 15 percent of the base cost per student

• Home and hospital: this is based on the previous school year’s ADA for students in each district receiving instruction either at home or at a hospital due to illness. To arrive at a figure, the ADA is multiplied by $100 less than the base amount.

• Exceptional: students classified as “low incidence disability,” “moderate incidence disability,” and “high incidence disability” are given additional weights. The prior school year’s child count on Dec. 1 is multiplied by the base amount and the weight to determine how much a school district will receive.

• Transportation: funding for transportation is calculated by district reports on the frequency, length and type of transportation provided.

• Limited English Proficiency: the prior year’s count of LEP students is multiplied by 9.6 percent and the base per pupil cost to arrive at a figure for each district.

Arkansas

Arkansas changed funding models in the wake of a long running lawsuit filed in 1992 — although the suit was not resolved for years, the state put a new formula in place in 1995.

Today, school districts are funded through a mixture of local and state taxes, according to the Arkansas school finance manual for 2015-16.

Districts are required to provide a minimum of 25 mills, called the “uniform rate of tax,” for maintenance and operation. Local school districts can increase the millage rate through a vote within the district.

Since counties rarely collect 100 percent of their taxes, the Arkansas Department of Education provides the amount short of 98 percent of the uniform rate of tax, according to the manual.

Real, public, and utility taxes are combined to create the “total assessment,” and that figure is multiplied by .001 and the millage rate to determine the amount of taxes the mills would generate.

The Arkansas funding model is called the “funding matrix;” it is based on a school with an average daily membership of 500, said Greg Rogers, assistant commissioner for finance and administration with the Arkansas Department of Education.

The state Legislature’s joint education adequacy committee establishes a base amount, called foundation funding, for per pupil funding. It is approved by the House and Senate and then used as the amount necessary to provide an adequate education to students.

The amount of foundation funding a school receives is determined using the average daily membership from the third quarter of the school year, Rogers said.

The base amount is $6,646 per pupil for the current school year and will increase to $6,714 next year, Rogers said.

Each school district receives foundation funding by multiplying the last year’s ADM by the base amount, Rogers said. This money is used to pay for school-level salaries, as well as school and district-level resources.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

A lawmaker reads a section of recommendations laid out by EdBuild.

Districts also receive additional “categorical” funds for students that require an alternative learning environment, English language learners, students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and professional development.

Unlike foundation funding, which are unrestricted funds, categorical funding needs to be used for specific purposes, Rogers said.

• English Language Learners: the per pupil funding for ELL students is multiplied by the number of ELL students.

• National School Lunch Act: known as NSL funding, it is based on the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch using the previous school year’s October 1 enrollment reports. These funds are established by three tiers: 0-69 percent of qualified students, 70-89 percent, and 90-100 percent. Each tier has a set amount for per pupil funding. The previous school year’s number of enrolled students that qualify is multiplied by the set figure to determine how much NSL funding a district receives. For example, if a district of 1,000 students had 900 that qualified for free or reduced lunch, it would fall in the highest tier of 90-100 percent. To figure out how much NSL funding the district would generate, multiply 900 by the third tier’s set figure. Rogers said these funds can be spent on “anything schools need to close the achievement gap,” such as before and after-school tutoring.

• Professional development: The state Department of Education sets a per-student amount and that figure is multiplied by the previous school year’s third quarter ADM.

Districts can also receive funds related to changes in enrollment. Since the per-pupil foundation funding is based on the previous school year’s ADM, the state provides student growth and declining enrollment funding.

While Arkansas and Kentucky serve as examples of how states use a weighted formula, there is still no certainty that Mississippi will do the same. Legislators still need to craft a new formula and choose how to weight categories specific to students in the state, put it in a bill, and get it passed before any changes can occur.