Gunn files school funding rewrite bill

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Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton

As expected, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, filed a school funding rewrite bill late Thursday after more than a year of conversations about overhauling the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that currently dictates school funding.

The bill includes much of the what New Jersey-based nonprofit EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia described to House Democratic Caucus members on Tuesday, including retaining a provision that allows property-wealthy districts across the state to keep $120 million they would have otherwise had to raise in local taxes.

Gunn’s formula includes some of the suggestions in the EdBuild report. Missing, however, is additional funding for kindergarten through 3rd grade students and the removal of the provision benefiting property-wealthy districts such as Madison, Rankin and Lowndes counties, which Sibilia described Tuesday as “inequitable, illogical” and “not good for kids.”

The crux of the formula is a $4,800 base cost for every kindergartner through 12th grader, plus weights — or additional money — added depending on students’ individual characteristics.

These characteristics include special education diagnosis, low-income status, gifted students and even age, with high schoolers receiving a weight of 1.3, or a total of $6,240.

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 during the 2017 legislative session.

The weights for students receiving special education services vary from 60 percent ($7,680) to 170 percent ($8,160) depending on the diagnosis.

In addition, students in “sparse,” or rural, districts will receive an additional 10 percent each from the state.

Unlike under the current formula, the total number of students in the district — and thus how much money the district gets — will be based on enrollment numbers.

The bill must still go through the committee process and be voted on by both chambers. If passed, the new formula, called the Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act of 2018, would begin in the next school year.

Any increases or decreases in funding a school district experiences as a result of the rewrite would be phased in over 7 years, the bill says.

View the bill here.