School funding revisions move forward in Senate

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Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Senators passed HB 957 out of committee inside a packed room on Tuesday.

The Senate shepherded a school funding rewrite through yet another hurdle Tuesday when members passed it out of the Education Committee.

House Bill 957 passed with a voice vote and now it heads to the Senate floor for final passage. The bill would end the state’s current funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, and replace it with one that provides funding based on student characteristics. There would be a two-year delay in the implementation of the new funding mechanism.

Critics of the revision argue that it has too many issues and unanswered questions to pass as is.

Kate Royals, Mississippi Today

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, presented the Senate’s version of the bill to a packed room. Committee members received it on Friday.

Much like the original bill passed by the House, the Senate version provides a base cost of $4,800 for a general education student and adds additional funding, or weights, for certain types of students like English language learners or special education students.

The Senate version calculates each district’s funding for low-income students based on a three-year average of the U.S. Census poverty rate, which Tollison said “would smooth out changes from year to year” and increase predictability for districts.

During the meeting, Tollison said the public has “lost confidence” in MAEP and if people are interested in increasing funding for K-12 education they should support this bill, arguing that it is more transparent and easier to understand.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson

Sen. David Blount of Jackson, a Democrat who has been outspoken against the bill, disagreed and said the issue is not that people have lost confidence in MAEP, but that they have lost confidence in the Legislature itself.

The idea that this has been an open and transparent process is incorrect, Blount said.

Some, but not all of the ideas in the bill come from EdBuild, the New Jersey based consultant hired by the Legislature to provide recommendations on a new funding formula. Those recommendations were made in January 2017 but no action was taken by the Legislature last year.

This session, Republican leaders have repeatedly said the recommendations have been out there for more than a year, so the contents of HB 957 should not come as a surprise.

“Simply putting a consultant’s conceptual paper on a website is not public input and it is not sufficient for the members of this committee and for the people and the school districts across the state,” Blount said.

MS Senate

Sen. David L. Jordan, D-Greenwood

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said when he compares the funding districts are supposed to receive at full funding under MAEP to the amount of funding districts receive with EdBuild’s recommendations “at the end of the day we lose money, and that is assuming that we fully fund them each year.”

MAEP has been fully funded just twice since 1997. The Mississippi Supreme Court decided in October that the Legislature is not obligated to fully fund MAEP.

“I agree that the MAEP needs a little work, but throwing it out the window and getting something that comes up with less resources, to me, is stumbling into the future backwards,” Jordan said.