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

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

Feb 22, 2024 | 3:17 pm ET
By Bobby Harrison
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Senate committee passes bill to tweak but preserve MAEP, the public school funding formula
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Photo courtesy of Mississippi Today

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, told his fellow Senate Education Committee members Thursday he fears the state’s 145 public school districts would be at the Capitol lobbying for funds, like other state agencies, if the objective funding formula used to determine how much money each school district receives is repealed.

Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, agreed that education would have to lobby for funds like other state agencies, adding that an objective funding formula “holds us (legislators) accountable. I think an objective funding formula is reliable. That is why I am pursuing it.”

The objective funding formula that DeBar and Wiggins were referencing is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Wiggins said he has had issues with MAEP in the past, but hopes the bill the Senate Education Committee passed Thursday to make changes to the formula will address his concerns.

No member of the Senate Education Committee voted against the proposal on Thursday.

Under the formula, the amount of money needed to adequately educate a student is determined based on objective criteria. The state provides the bulk of those funds, but each district contributes a portion of the funds with more affluent districts providing more than poorer districts. There is nothing to prevent local school districts from spending more than what they are required to contribute to the formula.

The House, in contrast, has introduced legislation that would eliminate MAEP and any objective formula, leaving it to lawmakers to annually determine the base student cost, or how much money the state provides for each student.

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

House Education Committee Chair Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, has said the final product that comes out of the House could include an objective formula, but as of now the House bill, still pending before the House Education Committee, does not.

The bill passed Thursday by the Senate committee was much like the one passed last year by the Senate, but that plan was killed in the House by the leadership without allowing members to vote on it.

The Senate bill would:

  • Increase the amount of money wealthier school districts must provide toward providing the funds needed to provide an adequate education.
  • Further limit the annual growth factor in the formula. It would be based on a 20-year average of inflation. The House plan has no growth factor.
  • Specify that 90% of the state MAEP funds could not be spent on administrative costs, such as salaries for superintendents and for other non-classroom staff.
  • Require charter schools to return a pro rata share of MAEP money to the local school district if a student enrolled in the charter school returned to the traditional school. The charter school would be penalized an additional 5% if it did not return the funds.

In the committee meeting, DeBar said he learned of the House plan to rewrite MAEP and to eliminate the objective formula just before it was released to the public.

“I would not say it is a formula. It is a plan,” he said.

MAEP has been fully funded only twice since it was fully enacted in 2003. DeBar hopes to fully fund the formula this year. He said fully funding the formula would require an additional $216 million, which is the same as last year, plus an extra $30 million for the increased costs to cover the health insurance plan and the state retirement plan. DeBar said once the program is fully funded, the year-over-year increase in costs would be minimal.

Roberson, the House Education Committee chairman, has said he hopes to provide an extra $100 million to $150 million for his plan.

House Speaker Jason White, R-West, has said the House plan is simpler than MAEP. Plus, he has argued the existing MAEP is too costly. The House plan would provide additional funds to educate various categories of students, such as those in special needs or those having to be taught English. MAEP provides an extra 5% per at-risk student.

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