Will Miss. School Funding Formula Survive?

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The gap between the state's school funding formula and money actually being appropriated could widen past $300 million next year, raising new questions about the formula's future.

Interim state Superintendent Lynn House told legislative budgeters the Mississippi Adequate Education Program will need $300.6 million more in the 2014 budget year than it received this year to reach full funding. The formula was $260 million short this year.

The state Department of Education requested a total of $2.4 billion, most of which flows to the state's 151 school districts.

Some members of the Legislative Budget Committee suggested it was time for major surgery on the formula, which has been fully in effect for 10 years. However, both Lt. Gov Tate Reeves and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said they were interested in less dramatic changes.

The Department of Education is required by law to ask for the full allocation, even though House quickly made clear she didn't expect lawmakers to appropriate that amount.

House said schools could, for example, use more money to add prekindergarten classes, hire more reading tutors and help teachers improve. But she sympathized with lawmakers unhappy with the gap

"Stop making us come to the table every year and ask for something you're not going to fund," she said. "I would prefer that it get fixed so we're talking about a reasonable request."

Lawmakers appropriated $500,000 this year to hire consultants for a fresh study of the formula, but decided instead just to consult with Department of Education staff members. Frierson said he and Reeves have asked a series of questions.

"We're picking it apart to understand how it works," he said.

Sen. Terry Brown R-Columbus, suggested it was time to scrap the formula, which was created to guarantee that Mississippi's school districts get enough money. The Legislature has only fully funded the formula twice.

"I just wonder if it isn't time for this committee and this Legislature to scrap this MAEP deal so these guys can bring in a realistic budget," Brown said. "I don't see us ever fully funding MAEP because it's one of those moving targets."

House Finance Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, told House that there's just not enough money after the state pays for K-12 schools, colleges, universities and Medicaid to appropriate another $300 million.

Frierson indicated that smaller changes might ease the situation. For example, because the formula declines when budgets go down, recalculating it every year would cut the amount demanded. Since 2005, the formula has only been recalculated every four years. Todd Ivey, bureau manager for the Office of School Financial Services, said the formula amount will fall when it's recalculated next year.

Reeves emphasized that the Legislature had put $30 million more into K-12 schools last year when funding was falling elsewhere in the budget. He said he anticipated "a strong effort to see increased funding."

House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, wants a way to use funding to communicate legislative priorities.

"We need to take a look at getting something that works," Snowden said.


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