Home - Breaking News, Events, Things-To-Do, Dining, Nightlife


House passes bill that would change how public schools are funded

For the first time since 1953, Mississippi would not rely on an objective funding formula to determine the amount of money local schools needed under legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House by an 95-13 margin on Wednesday.

Under the “Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact and Reform Education” (INSPIRE) Act, a group of eight local superintendents and employees of the state Department of Education would make a recommendation to the Legislature every four years on how much state money should go to local school districts.

The INSPIRE Act, if it is agreed to by the Senate, would replace the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. MAEP was passed in 1997 to replace the Minimum Education Program that was passed in the early 1950s as the primary source of state funding for local school districts.

The Minimum Program provided funds to local school districts based primarily on the number of teacher units they needed. Under MAEP, that process was changed to provide funds per student, referred to as the base student cost. MAEP defines the base student cost as the amount of money spent in an efficiently run “adequate” school district to educate a child. Districts receive their base student cost times their average attendance. And an important caveat in MAEP is that poor districts receive more per student than do more affluent districts.

READ MORE: House leaders tweak school funding plan after feedback from education groups

House Education Committee Vice Chair Kent McCarty, R-Hattiesburg, who spent about an hour and a half answering questions on the bill Wednesday, told House members that INSPIRE was much more equitable than the MAEP.

“We have a bill that puts more of an emphasis on equity than anything you have ever seen,” said House Education Chair Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, who is the primary author of the legislation.

Under the bill, there would be a base student cost — $6,650 — which is about $800 less than MAEP if fully funded. But the schools would receive significantly more money than the $6,650 per student for children who are deemed as needing additional funds to be educated, such as poor students, special needs students and others. In the end, the total funding for the new House plan would be slightly less than the total funding for MAEP if fully funded.

But MAEP has been fully funded only twice since 2003, and McCarty said there is no appetite by House leaders to fully fund MAEP this year. Many legislative leaders have complained in recent years that the state could not afford full funding while saying at other times the formula was outdated and too complex to fund.

READ MOREThe fate of the House school funding plan could come down to one question: Who wrote it?

McCarty pledged that the INSPIRE Act would be fully funded this year — an additional $240 million for education — or he would vote against it later in the session. Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, said he feared that in the future, lawmakers would not fund INSPIRE just as they have not fully funded MAEP.

In the end, Clark voted present along with 13 others. The school district in his home county of Holmes, one of the poorest counties in the state, would receive about 25% in funding more than it received for the current year. Clark said he was torn on the bill.

“When you look at the bill, it has a lot of good things that would benefit my area – providing more help for low income students,” he said. But he added he is concerned that the bill leaves it up to people instead of an objective formula to determine the amount of money school districts receive, and that in future years the current funding levels would not continue.

Some wealthy districts, such as Rankin and Madison counties, will receive less funding under INSPIRE.

Rep. Jill Ford, R-Madison, said she voted for the legislation because she thought it was a better funding formula and that the reduction for her county would be phased in over three years. Plus, she said, Madison is getting the new Amazon Web Services data center that will add to its tax base.

“I think we will be all right.” she said.

Rep. Fred Shanks, a Republican who represents Rankin County, said he thought by the time that the three-year phase-in of the cut to his school district is complete, growth in funding in the formula would offset the reduction.

The House bill now moves over to the Senate, where it faces a Republican leadership that appears to this point more intent on tweaking and fully funding MAEP than scrapping the current formula and passing a new one.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Local Dining Stream

Things To Do

Related articles