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


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

House leaders say they’ve been working independently of any other group for more than a year to develop their sweeping new public education funding plan, which they say would send additional money to poorer school districts than the current funding formula does.

But three advocacy groups that have often butted heads with powerful pro-public education groups also have been working on a new funding formula. It consists of many of the same characteristics found in the House leadership’s plan.

The origins of the House school funding bill have become central to the combustible debate at the Capitol about whether the plan should be passed into law — and it could ultimately impact the bill’s fate as it faces key deadlines in coming days and weeks.

Rep. Jansen Owen, a Republican from Poplarville, said he and his colleague, House Education Vice Chair Kent McCarty, a Republican from Hattiesburg, worked independently of advocacy groups in their effort to rewrite the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which currently provides the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts.

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

All three of the advocacy groups that worked to develop the 2024 school funding rewrite have been at odds with pro-public education groups in the past. Two of the groups involved in this year’s rewrite effort — Empower Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy — have long advocated for allowing public funds to be spent in private schools. 

A third group involved in this year’s rewrite effort — Mississippi First — was an outspoken advocate in developing the state’s charter school program. In the 2010s, when the Legislature was enacting a charter school law, many public school advocates vehemently opposed it, arguing charter schools were funded with public dollars but did not have to adhere to the same rules and regulations that normal public schools must follow.

The three groups’ involvement in the 2024 public education funding formula rewrite has created pause for some education groups fearful of what a rewrite might entail. For decades, lawmakers have underfunded MAEP, with many legislative leaders calling for its rewrite at least partially because they argued the state could not afford full funding. For some public education advocates, any effort to rewrite MAEP is viewed as an effort to further cut education funding. MAEP has been fully funded only twice since its full enactment and has been underfunded more than $3 billion since 2008.

But Owen said that he hopes the rewrite he and his House colleagues have put forward will result in more funding for education. He said he is not sure the three advocacy groups involved in the rewrite are even supportive of the House effort because of the extra money it will mean for K-12 schools.

“Rep. McCarty and myself have been working on a plan for a new formula to address some of the inequities in MAEP and bring funding to the classrooms for well over a year now — long before any other groups or organizations became involved,” Owen said. “After Speaker White took office, and Rep. (Rob) Roberson became chairman, it became apparent that House leadership and our (Republican) caucus were on board with changes that provide equitable funding to classrooms.”

It is likely that the MAEP rewrite will be passed out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday, the deadline for the measure to advance out of committee. There have been no public hearings on the 413-page bill designed to rewrite the current school funding formula.

READ MORESpeaker Jason White says House will work to scrap, rewrite public education funding formula

The Senate Education Committee already has passed a more modest rewrite of MAEP. Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar, a Republican from Leakesville, has said the Senate bill addresses some of the issues that that those promoting a complete rewrite say make the existing school funding formula unfair.

Rachel Canter, the executive director and founder of Mississippi First, told Mississippi Today in an interview in late February that she and her organization began working with Empower and Mississippi Center for Public Policy after she was contacted by the two groups. She said there are many areas where she does not agree with the two groups, but she saw the combined effort as a chance to write a new funding formula that she believed would be more equitable for poor and at-risk students.

Grant Callen, founder and chief executive officer of Empower Mississippi, offered a “no comment” when asked if his group believed the formula needed to be rewritten and whether Empower’s involvement might taint the proposed formula with some education groups.

Douglas Carswell, CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, wrote in a February op-ed that the existing funding formula needed to be scrapped because it was outdated and complicated. Plus, he said, the new proposal took into account individual children’s circumstances.

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

The House bill and the plan developed by the work of the three advocacy groups include a base student cost (amount of money per pupil) being established and providing additional funds to the base student cost based on the unique circumstances of the student, such as more money for a special needs student.

Sen. Hob Bryan, a Democrat from Amory and key architect of the current MAEP funding formula, told Mississippi Today in an interview he feared the House bill’s base student cost would be used a vehicle to develop vouchers to go to private schools equal to the base student costs for each of the students they educate. House Education Chair Roberson has filed a far-reaching school choice or voucher bill.

Several pro-public education organizations — the Mississippi Association of Educators, Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, Mississippi Professional Educators, Mississippi Association of School Administrators and the Parents Campaign – wrote a letter to legislators in February voicing support for some type of weighted system, but said it was essential that any rewrite of MAEP include an objective formula and a growth factor.

The House plan, as currently written, does not include an objective funding formula or a growth factor as the MAEP does. The Adequate Education Program, passed in 1997, has an objective formula, based on specific criteria, to determine how much per pupil is needed to provide an adequate education.

The House plan would leave it to legislators to determine how much to provide per pupil to the local school districts for their basic operation. But the House bill does require the Mississippi Department of Education to make recommendations to legislators every four years on what the base student cost should be. Owen predicted the House bill would be “tweaked” to include local superintendents in the process of recommending the base student cost to legislators. He also said he would not necessarily oppose an objective formula akin to what is in the Adequate Education Program.

Canter at Mississippi First said the House plan may not necessarily have buy-in from all three of the advocacy groups that worked to develop their own school funding rewrite. She said the groups paid Bellwether, a national education consulting group, to work with them on the plan. Bellwether developed a website that is password protected and not open to the public, where different data can be entered to see how much the new plan would generate in funding. House members working on the rewrite have used that website to ascertain how changes to the plan would impact school districts.

While the three advocacy groups did not recommend an objective formula to ascertain the base student cost in their rewrite, Canter said she would not be opposed to one. But she said the lack of the objective formula is not a reason to discard the rewrite effort.

Canter pointed out that there are elements of the MAEP funding formula that penalize low-income students and property-poor school districts. She said, though, there are merits to having a formula that includes a growth factor and an objective funding formula, but she said the House bill without the formula still merited consideration.

DeBar has said he believes any inequities that have developed in the MAEP since it was first passed in 1997 can be fixed without completely rewriting the formula.

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

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