Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford

A Senate education leader put to rest rumors Wednesday that the Legislature may return to Jackson later this spring or summer to try once more to pass a new school funding formula.

Senate Education chairman Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said definitively during a Mississippi Economic Council breakfast: “There’s not going to be any special session.”

“There are other issues the Legislature is taking care of, one being the BRIDGE Act, the infrastructure issue,” Tollison said. “That (education formula) bill is dead, and to my knowledge there is no intent to bring this up.”

The bill in question is House Bill 957, which would have replaced Mississippi’s current funding formula with the Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act of 2018, which lawmakers informally call “UPS.”

The bill died in the Senate earlier this month when all Democrats and eight Republicans voted to send it back to committee.

“The Legislature is coming back in January, and I would bet in the next three or four years you’re going to have a new funding formula, probably the UPS formula that was passed by House and died in the Senate,” Tollison said.

Tollison repeated familiar criticisms of the current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Formula, telling the room he believes the public has lost faith in it and the formula is difficult to understand.

MAEP requires local districts to contribute $28 for every $1,000 of assessed property value in the school district, also called 28 mills. School districts are allowed to assess a higher tax rate up to 55 mills.

The law also has the 27 percent rule, which 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.

Tollison criticized this rule Wednesday, stating: “You’re compounding the problem of making rich districts richer and the poor districts poorer with the formula we have now, to the tune of about $120 million and growing.”

MAEP is “probably one of the most inequitable formulas in the country right now because of 27 percent rule, which was not part of the original formula,” Tollison said. “It was part of the component put in there to get the bill passed.”

While HB 957 was still alive, many lawmakers raised the prospect of stripping or phasing it out, but Tollison and other leaders handling the bill said they were not open to it at the time.

Before the House passed the bill in January, House Education chairman Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, told representatives he was open to studying the rule down the road but removing it at once would be devastating. He also said MAEP “was not a fair formula by any stretch of the imagination.”

The last official day for the 2018 legislative session is April 1.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.