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Mississippi Needs a New School Funding Formula

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

A Senate Appropriations Committee member reviews proposed legislation at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis – Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

  • Mississippi Center for Public Policy’s CEO Douglas Carswell says MAEP is hideously clunky and complicated. He says a new transparent, easily understood system is needed.

Remember 1997?  Actually, a great many Mississippians under the age of thirty won’t.  That was the year Mississippi created its current school funding formula, the MAEP, or Mississippi Adequate Education Funding Program.

A generation later, it is time for a fundamental overhaul of the way we fund education.  Contrary to its name, Mississippi’s Adequate Education Funding Program turns out to be inadequate.

Think of how many things have got better since 1997.  Instead of brick-sized cell phones, we have smartphones.  Rather than listen to music on compact discs, or drive to Blockbuster to rent a video, we can simply stream what we want, when we want it.

So why do we still have such an arcane school funding formula as the MAEP?

For a start, the MAEP is hideously clunky and complicated.  Few even understand it.  We need a system that is transparent and easily understood.  

More important, perhaps, we need a school funding system that is tailored to meet individual student needs.  Just as today we can personalise what music we listen to, or chose which apps to have on our smartphone, we ought to personalise the way we fund every Mississippi child’s education.  

An individualised funding system means weighting the amount that every student gets above a base amount, depending on every child’s circumstances.  For example, the amount ought to be adjusted to reflect the fact that a child might have special needs, or be especially gifted.  

There needs to be some weighting, too, for low income and concentrated poverty, perhaps.  With a real need to prepare young Mississippians for the workforce, some career and technical weighting would be good.

Tennessee recently showed how a weighted system can work.  If we did something like Tennessee, we would be in good company.  

How much the different types of weighting should be ought to be a matter for the legislature.  

Under MAEP, funding seems neither fair nor consistent.  One of its oddities is that the so-called “full funding” cost has long been ignored.  In a quarter of a century, the MAEP has only been fully funded a couple of times.  We should start over with a formula that people believe in and will fund.

Last year, Mississippi’s Senate voted by a clear majority to replace the MAEP.  Excellent.  The issue was that there was not a clearly thought through alternative to it.  There is now.  

Rep. Rob Roberson’s excellent new INSPIRE bill (HB 1453, “Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact and Reform Education) now proposes an alternative to the MAEP, rather than just some amendments to it.  

By adjusting the different weights for the formula, it is now perfectly possible to implement a new system in which every district is a winner, as well as the students.  

Mississippi needs a new funding formula, not just a band aid on a system that is long past its sell by date.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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