Gunn: No school funding rewrite in 2019

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AP photo, Rogelio V. Solis

Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, questions state health officer Mary Currier, during a legislative working group hearing at the Capitol in Jackson

Weeks away from the start of another legislative session, the top House Republican told reporters lawmakers will not tackle a new school funding formula next year.

When asked whether the House would attempt a rewrite of the public school funding formula, Speaker Philip Gunn said, “I don’t see that being an item this year.”

Revamping that formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), has been a top goal of Republican leadership during the last two sessions, but both attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. Critics of the MAEP say the formula is not equitable and doesn’t send enough money to directly to students. Proponents argue the formula could work if it was fully funded — something that has happened twice since the law’s inception in 1997.

In 2016, the legislature hired New Jersey-based consultant EdBuild to examine the current formula and suggest revisions. In January 2017, the group produced a litany of recommendations to change the MAEP, the most controversial being that the state should rethink its commitment to providing 73 percent of the funds for public education.

Lawmakers were faced with the contentious decision of whether to eliminate the “27 percent rule,” a provision in the current formula that allows property-wealthy districts across the state to keep $120 million in state funds they would otherwise have to raise locally.

Both the House and Senate created placeholder bills in the 2017 session, but without specifics they died. This year lawmakers unveiled the Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act of 2018, a weighted formula that had different tiers of funding for different student demographics and set a base amount for each student. The bill passed out of the House but later died in the Senate in a surprising failure. 

“We passed it on this end of the building. The other end did not,” Gunn said on Monday. “I don’t know what (the Senate’s) concerns are.”

Gunn said the House has not made school funding an agenda priority this year.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was not immediately available for comment on whether the Senate intended to take up the issue again next year.