The Mississippi Legislature, finally reaching a budget accord, worked late Wednesday night to pass that agreement with hopes of ending its 2023 session on Thursday.
A key peg in that deal is an agreement between House and Senate leaders to provide an additional $100 million for local school districts. The agreement will be divvied out to schools based on student enrollment with the understanding the money cannot be used to provide pay raises for administrators.
A key obstacle in the prolonged budget stalemate that began before last weekend was the desire of the Senate to place an additional $181 million in the funding formula in state law that provides for the basic needs of local school districts.
The Senate plan was to make minor adjustments in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, and fully fund it for an additional $181 million for the first time since the 2007-08 school year.
But House Speaker Philip Gunn and other members of his leadership team opposed placing additional money in MAEP. They have been advocates in the past of scrapping or overhauling the program.
Gunn stressed late Wednesday the additional $100 million will not go into the formula. But it will be provided to the schools, like the MAEP is, based on student enrollment. And while school districts will not have as much discretion as with MAEP in how the funds are spent, they still will have significant leeway in expending the funds.
Overall, Gunn said he is pleased with the agreement.
“We are going to make significant progress tonight and probably finish up on Thursday,” he said. “We are grateful to the Senate for working with us.”
The agreement also will include additional funds to deal with the devastation caused by last week’s tornadoes that ripped through the Delta and north Mississippi killing at least 21. Final details of the amount of money that will be set aside for storm relief was still undecided late Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said the amount of funding “will be a significant amount of money.”
The agreement will take shape in multiple appropriations bills that must be passed by both chambers. Additionally, a handful of general bills — some controversial — still are pending to be taken up.
House Bill 1020 is perhaps the most controversial. In its original form it created a separate judicial district in the white and more affluent areas of Jackson where the judges would be appointed instead of elected by the Black majority population of the city.
A version of that proposal is still alive and expected to be taken up on Thursday.
Another measure, Senate Bill 2343, would give Capitol Police, under direction of the state Department of Public Safety, jurisdiction to patrol within the entire city of Jackson.
But efforts to restore the state’s initiative process where citizens can gather signatures to place issues on the ballot for voters to decide was not part of any agreement. That proposal is dead for the session unless an additional agreement is reached overnight. The state had an initiative process until May 2021 when the state Supreme Court ruled it invalid because of a technical flaw. At the time, legislative leaders vowed to fix the concerns of the Supreme Court and restore the process. But for the past two sessions, legislative leaders have been unable to agree on a fix to restore the process.