House Speaker Jason White, in his first public speech after being elected on Tuesday, proposed reforming Mississippi’s public school funding formula — the subject of years of debate at the Capitol and across the state.
The funding formula used to allocate money to public schools, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was established by the Legislature in 1997 and has been consistently underfunded every year since 2008. MAEP funding provides the state’s share of funding for the basic operations of local school districts, ranging from teacher salaries to textbooks to utilities.
Allocations under the formula multiply attendance by the base student cost, a number calculated by the Mississippi Department of Education that reflects the amount necessary to “adequately” educate a student. Local school districts are required to pay a portion of their allocation based on property taxes, but state law guarantees that no district will pay more than 27%. This provision, known as “the 27% rule”, primarily benefits wealthier districts since their property taxes generate more funds.
In his speech, White did not advance specific policy proposals but identified the 27% rule as needing further scrutiny.
“We are certainly spending plenty,” he said. “Let’s be sure we’re spending wisely.”
White confirmed to reporters he is not looking to cut public education funding, but instead evaluate where it is spent. He continued by identifying underperforming school districts as a priority and said he would like to work with local superintendents to improve outcomes.
White also discussed his interest in career and technical education programs, which place high school students in certificate programs instead of college prep courses. White linked this issue to other voucher and school choice debates, framing it as a form of choice for parents and students to be able to select their diploma track.
Last year, Senate leaders introduced a plan in early March to give an additional $181 million to public schools by slightly modifying the MAEP formula and fully funding the new version. Despite the plan passing the Senate unanimously, House leadership refused to put more money into the formula, saying they believed it would be used for increased administrative spending and would not benefit students. Instead, House leaders wanted to direct additional funding into specific programs, like the capital improvements loan fund or an assistant teacher pay raise.
Neither proposal triumphed, with lawmakers eventually agreeing to give an additional $100 million to school districts outside of the funding formula. The additional money could be spent similarly to MAEP and was also distributed based on attendance, save that it could not be used for superintendent, assistant superintendent or principal raises.
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