As the House geared up Wednesday to debate a plan scrapping the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, talking points given to House Republicans about the bill still leave some questions unanswered.
One major question is whether funds currently going to education programs but funded outside of the formula will be covered by the new formula – and whether schools will truly get more money.
“The bill increases the overall investment in education by over $107 million in its estimated final implementation year,” the handout titled “Talking Points for House Bill 957” states.
But where that $107 million will come from remains to be determined.
House Education Chairman Richard Bennett, a Republican from Long Beach, told the Associated Press last week that funds outside of the formula for areas such as National Board Certified Teacher salary supplements, vocational and technical education, and 3rd grade reading coaches, among others could be swept in to the new allocation.
The statement raises questions about whether schools will see an actual increase in funding or whether existing money will simply be shifted around.
Meg Annison, a spokeswoman for Speaker Philip Gunn, who authored House Bill 957, said sources of funding will be determined each year based on revenue.
She also noted that schools would be funded at the same amount as the current fiscal year for the next two years, and some could see slight increases in funding corresponding with an increase in student enrollment.
The handout also defends the formula’s use of Census, rather than free and reduced lunch (students at or below 130 percent of the poverty income threshold, and between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty income threshold), numbers to calculate low-income students.
Because a new rule allows school districts with a certain percentage of its students on public assistance programs to provide all of its students free and reduced meals, the data has become “completely distorted,” the document says.
Several lawmakers, however, expressed concern that Census numbers are inaccurate and include students enrolled in private schools, thus distorting the number of low-income children in the area public schools.
Under the new formula, low-income students receive an additional 25 percent of the base student cost, or an additional $1,200, in funding.
“The current formula deems 70 percent of all students in the state as ‘at-risk,’ providing 5 percent more to these students. This bill increases that to 25 percent more, and better targets funds to the districts serving the highest needs students,” the handout states.
“Because Census poverty is published by an impartial, third party and there is a direct relationship between high Census poverty rates and participation in other safety net programs, it removes concerns about inaccurately identifying low-income student populations.”
The document also defends the decision to retain the 27 percent rule, which allows property-rich districts to receive additional state funds, allowing them to keep their local tax rate lower. An estimated $120 million in state funds is sent to property-rich districts under the 27 percent rule instead of having those funds available for districts that are struggling.
“The bill affirms the legislature’s commitment to continuing to consider taxpayer equity for all communities by calling for a study of alternate options to the 27 percent rule, but reflects the realization that funding policy with such a dramatic potential effect should not be legislated overnight,” it states.
Rebecca Sibilia, CEO of the consulting group EdBuild, called the 27 percent rule “inequitable” and “not good for kids,” and the removal of the provision was a key component of the group’s recommendations.