Friday, February 10, 2017
JACKSON Both dummy bills that Mississippi legislators could have used to change the state's education funding formula died in the House and the Senate on Feb. 9, but attempts to implement weighted student funding are still possible in this legislative session, lawmakers said Thursday.
Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, who handled House Bill 1294 in the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters that lawmakers will probably do something this year, mentioning the possibility of a special session within the regular session or after the Legislature has adjourned. Bennett said the bill died because the proposal was not finished.
"We're looking at what it's going to cost, how it will be funded and how it affects the districts," Bennett told reporters Thursday.
House leaders continue their opposition to changing the 27-percent rule, as EdBuild's recommendations suggest, Bennett said. The 27-percent rule keeps school districts from paying more than 27 percent of the minimum calculated cost of public education in the state, the EdBuild proposal says, placing more responsibility on the state to fund education. Some original authors of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program say this was intentional. If the Legislature doesn't change the 27-percent rule, EdBuild's recommendations will be more expensive, an AP analysis found.
On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves echoed some of Bennett's suggestions and elaborated more on his plans for the state's new education funding formula.
"At this point in early February, we should not do anything that significantly affects the 2017-2018 school year in terms of making major changes for districts, and if we're not going to do anything that's implementation will have major impact in '17-'18 school year, then there's no reason for us to have a bill that met this particular deadline," Reeves told reporters after the Senate adjourned Thursday after letting Senate Bill 2607. "But I will tell you ... in this building no bill is dead dead dead until we adjourn sine die."
There are a few ways a bill still could come out this session. First, Reeves said using a revenue or appropriation bill is an option, because they are subject to later deadlines. Second, the Legislature can revive any dead bill with a two-thirds majority vote from both the House and the Senate. A third option could be a special session during the session—or after the session ends.
Reeves said he was looking at EdBuild's proposal to change the definition of a low-income student as well as increasing the weight for low-income students in the state. He also mentioned weights for low-income, gifted and high-school students as well as additional funding for transportation for students in rural areas. As it relates to the 27-percent rule, Reeves said the House and Senate are having "ongoing conversations" regarding the rule.
"We certainly want to ensure that any effect that changing that (rule) would have would be implemented over a period of time, but again, a final decision on any of those numbers is not agreed upon at this time," Reeves told reporters.