Jackson, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi Senate leaders are pushing to rewrite the state’s education budget formula, which has only fully funded public schools twice since it was put into law in 1997.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, both Republicans, said the proposal would fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program for the third time in the state’s history and provide a $181 million infusion into school budgets. The proposal, which was unveiled Monday at the Capitol, would end a roughly 16-year period in which lawmakers have failed to fully fund the program, which helps public schools cover basic expenses.
After passing a teacher pay raise bill last session, Hosemann said the latest push to fully fund public schools shows the Senate’s emphasis on education.
“We don’t compete just with Alabama anymore; we compete with the world,” he said. “We fully intend for our kids to be competitive when they get there.”
The election year proposal is expected to be put before the full Mississippi Senate on Tuesday. House Speaker Phillip Gunn has not said whether he supports the proposal.
The proposal would change the way the state’s department of education calculates the base student cost, the funding level deemed necessary to provide an adequate education to one student. It would also raise the percentage cap that determines how much local school districts are responsible for paying. Four school districts in the state would end paying more, but senate leaders committed to helping cover that cost.
MAEP was put into law by a Democratic-controlled Legislature in 1997 over the veto of Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice. It is designed to give each district enough money to meet midlevel academic standards.
The program was written largely in response to equity-funding lawsuits being filed in other states, which challenged the level of money being spent in poorer districts compared to wealthier ones.
Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Legislature since the 2012 session. In 2017, then Lt. Gov. Tates Reeves and Gunn led a failed attempt to replace the formula with a new plan which they said would link money more explicitly to the needs of each student.
“I think what happened in 2017 was an obsession with repealing the formula so that there would be no way to measure underfunding,” said Democratic state Sen. Hob Bryan. “That by definition whatever the Legislature came up with to fund things would be acceptable.”
Reeves, who is now the governor, did not say Monday whether he supported the proposal.
Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, a public education advocacy group that has long pushed for MAEP funding, said she supports the formula changes “alongside a commitment to fully fund public schools this year.”
“Importantly, the Senate’s plan leaves intact the formula for the base student cost, which is the primary determinant of school funding, it enhances the equity provision of the MAEP, and when fully funded, will increase significantly funding for public schools statewide,” Loome told The Associated Press.