Mississippi voters, by an overwhelming margin, support full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides to local school districts the state’s share of money to pay for their basic needs.

A Siena College/Mississippi Today poll released on Monday found that 79% of respondents — including 91% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans and 77% of independents — support fully funding MAEP, while just 9% are opposed. Eleven percent of respondents are undecided.

The poll was conducted on March 6-8 of 764 registered voters. The poll was conducted soon after the state Senate, in a surprise move, voted unanimously to make a few changes to the MAEP formula and appropriate an additional $181 million to achieve full funding.

Editor’s note: Poll methodology and crosstabs can be found at the bottom of this story. Click here to read more about our partnership with Siena College Research Institute.

If the House and Gov. Tate Reeves agree to the Senate proposal, it will mark the first time the formula, viewed as landmark legislation nationally when it was passed in 1997, has been fully funded since the 2007-08 school year.

Siena asked poll respondents if they support “fully funding, with the addition of about $275 million, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or MAEP, the formula that sends state money to local schools for basic school needs.” (Note: Mississippi Today commissioned the Siena poll before the Senate released its final additional cost estimate of $181 million — about $94 million less than the $275 million asked of poll respondents.)

The Senate passed legislation, now pending in the House, that would make technical changes, resulting in less than $275 million to provide full funding. Even with the changes to the formula, all 138 school districts, plus charter schools, would receive more funding than they garnered last year and are scheduled to get this year under the budget proposals of the governor and legislative leaders. The formula was underfunded by $273 million last year and was scheduled, to be underfunded by about $275 million for the upcoming year.

The Senate plan would not require any school district to raise taxes to receive the additional funding.

MAEP was approved in 1997 and fully funded in 2003, its first year of full enactment. It also was fully funded in 2007.

According to the Parents’ Campaign, an education advocacy group, MAEP was underfunded by $3.3 billion since 2008. But still, it is generally the largest state expenditure each year. In the 2022 session, the Legislature appropriated $2.1 billion for MAEP.

State Superintendent of Education Robert Taylor said of the possibility of full funding for the local districts: “It would be significant. That (fully funding) means that they now have the resources to put toward things that they haven’t been able to do. We know that proper funding in education is what is going to give any district the capacity to do the work.”

MAEP covers most of the state costs for the basic operation of school districts, ranging from textbooks to utilities to teacher salaries.

Siena has been rated as one of the top pollsters in the nation by the FiveThirtyEight Blog, which analyzes pollster data. The poll has a margin of error of 4.6%, meaning the results could vary by that margin.

The respondents had a racial breakdown of 57% white voters and 35% African American voters. It also included 35% Republicans, 33% Democrats and 31% independent and other parties.

The poll was conducted via cell phones, landlines and “from a proprietary online panel of Mississippians.”

Mississippi Today’s Julia James contributed to this report.

Click here for complete methodology and crosstabs relevant to this story.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.