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House Republicans demonize MAEP school funding formula while relying on its numbers

The ongoing fight over the method state lawmakers will use to determine the amount of money needed to operate Mississippi’s public schools has major ramifications.

Yes, the issue is complicated, and the way it’s playing out in the Legislature is confusing to say the least.

It is confusing, at least in part, because House leaders are using the existing school funding formula, which they are trying to “scrap” because they say it is inefficient, to decide how much money to put into their new proposal.

House leaders say their goal is to rewrite the long-standing Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share for the basics to operate local schools. But in doing so, they are using the MAEP to ascertain how much money to place in their plan, which they’re calling “Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact and Reform Education,” or the INSPIRE Act.

Wait, so why are the folks who want to rewrite the MAEP because they say it is inefficient, outdated and unfair using the MAEP to determine how much money to place in their new funding plan?

Well, the answer to that is simple: their plan does not have a formula to ascertain how much money the schools need.

The INSPIRE Act, would depend on a committee — granted, education professionals who can make educated decisions — to determine the amount of money. But there is no objective formula in the House leadership’s plan, like can be found in the MAEP, to ascertain the amount of money. The Legislature, of course, could accept or reject the recommendation of the proposed new committee, just like they have for years ignored the MAEP formula.

Heck, it’s reasonable to assume that if the House plan passes and the advisory committee is put in place, the committee would use the MAEP to make its suggestions to legislators.

House leaders could read this and argue that they are not using MAEP to ascertain the amount of money that is in their plan. But they have said that they accepted the funding request from the state Board of Education as the amount of funding that would go into their plan to be allocated to local school district.

Guess what the request from the state Board of Education is based on?

You’re correct! It was based on the MAEP formula.

“We had to have a starting point,” said House Education Chair Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, when asked about using the MAEP numbers. “We didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.”

It should be noted that the plan put forth by Roberson and his colleagues, including second-term House members Kent McCarty, R-Hattiesburg, and Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, has many laudable features that appear to provide more funds for poor students and others who would be deemed as costing more money to educate.

That is a good thing, most would agree.

But it also should be noted that many legislators from districts with high poverty, such as Bryant Clark, a Democrat from Holmes County, have been trying for more than a decade to tweak the MAEP to add additional funding for those same students living in poverty.

Those efforts have, time and time again, been blocked by Republican leaders who say MAEP already was too costly.

Even though there are many good features in the House plan in terms of the equity it provides, there are concerns for many in the public education community with repealing an objective formula. Removing an objective funding formula is a big deal.

Since 1953, Mississippi has had an objective funding formula to determine the state’s share of the money needed to provide for the basics of operating schools — first the Minimum Education Program, followed by the Adequate Education Program that was passed in 1997.

Eschewing any type of objective funding formula in a state that has had one for nearly three-quarters of a century should be closely vetted and scrutinized, many public education groups contend. Some question whether that vetting and scrutiny has occurred. The specifics of the House plan did not become public until the current session was well underway. Before then, there was a little chatter about the plan, but no specifics were offered.

There is no reason that House leaders could not have taken their plan and incorporated an objective funding formula in it to arrive at their stated goal of providing more equity for Mississippi’s schools and students.

For whatever reason they chose not to do so. And even as they’re trying to scrap MAEP, they’re having to rely on it to push their alternative.

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