Senate committee to address ed funding bill

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After more than a month of speculation, the Senate on Wednesday will take its first step in addressing a possible rewrite of the state’s public education funding formula.

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the education committee will meet at noon Wednesday to discuss House Bill 957, which would rewrite the way public schools are funded. Tollison repeatedly said there was no Senate counterpart.

Gil Ford photography

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford

“I think the purpose of this (meeting) is to give members an opportunity to talk about this concept,” Tollison said.

The announcement came during a Senate meeting with EdBuild, the New-Jersey based consultant hired by the Legislature to provide recommendations on a new formula last year.

The House passed its version on Jan. 17, but Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves did not assign it to committee until Feb. 16. Many senators Mississippi Today spoke with earlier this month said they were not sure what the Senate’s plan was.

EdBuild met with the House Democratic Caucus prior to the passage of HB 957, but Reeves had not allowed Senate Democrats to do the same. That changed on Tuesday, however — Reeves wrote a letter to caucus chairman Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, inviting members to meet with the consultants about their recommendations.

EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia gave a packed room a very similar presentation as was delivered to the House, and repeated that she believes the state’s current formula is unfair.

R.L. Nave, Mississippi Today

Rebecca Sibilia of education consulting firm EdBuild testifies to a Senate committee.

“What this is about is whether or not you want to treat one school district different than the other,” she said, referring to the rule that no school district shall bear more than 27 percent of the cost of public education. This requirement forces the state to provide funding to property rich districts which Sibilia argued could raise the funds through local taxes instead.

“Our recommendation is to stop doing that,” Sibilia said. “Our recommendation is that every school district should be required to put in their 28 mills.” The requirement that no more than 27 percent of the cost of education be borne by a local district means some districts can tax local residents at a lower millage rate than property poor districts.

Although the Senate schedule does not list an education meeting, Tollison has a room reserved in the Capitol for two and a half hours. The deadline to pass the House bill out of committee is next Tuesday.