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Education groups urge lawmakers to keep objective formula in place for school funding

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Education groups urge lawmakers to keep objective formula in place for school funding

Feb 23, 2024 | 4:23 pm ET
By Bobby Harrison
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Education groups urge lawmakers to keep objective formula in place for school funding
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Photo courtesy of Mississippi Today

Several high-powered Mississippi public education groups sent a joint letter to lawmakers this week stressing that any rewrite of the formula providing state funds to local schools should be based on objective criteria.

The House leadership has proposed a completely new funding structure that would leave it to legislators to annually determine the base student cost. Under the current funding formula called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which the Senate is working to tweak but preserve, the base student cost is determined by an objective formula — not by politicians. The base student cost multiplied by enrollment equals the amount of money that school districts are supposed to receive, though more affluent districts receive less funding than do poorer districts.

READ MOREHouse leaders want lawmakers, not an objective formula, to determine ‘full funding’ for public schools

The Feb. 20 letter, addressed to House Speaker Jason White, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the House and Senate education chairmen, and every lawmaker, was sent by:

  • The Mississippi Association of Educators.
  • The Mississippi Association of School Superintendents.
  • The Mississippi Professional Educators.
  • The Mississippi Association of School Administrators.
  • The Parents’ Campaign.

“We believe that a guiding principle in the development of such (school funding formula) should be an understanding that the purpose … is to reflect the true cost of educating Mississippi children to a proficient level in core academic subjects and otherwise preparing them for success in college and career,” the letter reads.

To achieve those goals, the letter continues, “essential components” of a formula should include “a base student cost determined by an objective formula. The base cost represents the cost to bring a typical student to academic proficiency as defined by state academic standards.” The formula also should include “an inflation factor to account for increased operational costs to be applied in any year in which there is not a full recalculation of the formula.”

The Senate Education Committee has passed legislation to make some changes to MAEP, but the Senate bill maintains the objective funding formula and preserves a growth factor, though at a level lower than the current level. Whether a compromise between the two chambers on the funding formula can be achieved could be one of the most contentious issues of the 2024 session.

READ MORE: Senate committee passes bill to tweak but preserve MAEP, the public school funding formula

The letter from the education groups went on to say that a rewrite also should include additional funding for students living in poverty, for special education students, for gifted students and for students learning English as a second language. The letter also advocates for more funds for career and technical education and to address teacher shortages in both geographic areas and in subject areas.

The letter advocated for “an equity provision” providing more state funding in poor districts and less state funding in more affluent districts.

The bill that the Senate Education Committee passed this week would require more affluent districts to contribute more toward the base student cost, or toward the cost of providing an “adequate” education. The Senate bill would not make any adjustments to the amount of money going to poorer districts. But Senate leaders say they hope to fully fund the formula, pumping an additional $215 million into the program providing more assistance to poorer districts, as it would all districts.

The House plan provides more money for various groups of students who might take more money to educate, such as poor students, special education students and English learners.

MAEP has been fully funded only twice since its implementation in 1997 — the last time in 2007.

READ MORECould this be the year political games end and MAEP is funded and fixed?