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House passes bill scrapping MAEP formula in favor of new funding model for public schools

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After flirting with the idea in recent years to scrap Mississippi’s existing funding formula for K-12 schools, the House of Representatives has taken action to create a new model to properly determine how to spend money on students.

House lawmakers on Wednesday, in an overwhelming 92-13 vote, passed HB 1453, also known as the INSPIRE Act. The legislation, authored by Education Committee Chair Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, is an acronym for “Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact, and Reform Education.”

The proposal would replace the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), which has only been completely funded twice since its inception in 1997 and would cost the state roughly $3 billion to fully compensate this year. House Speaker Jason White says the new formula is much more coherent than MAEP.

“I could bring an iPad up here and I can say, ‘How do you want to tweak this? You want to put more emphasis on low income? You want to put more emphasis on special education? You want to put more emphasis on workforce development? Here are the weights.’ You can tweak them any way you want, plug in the base student costs, and it gives you a number,” White said. “It’s very easy to understand.”

INSPIRE would provide a minimal base student cost of $6,650. However, public schools in Mississippi would be given more money per pupil based on the number of students coming from low-income households, ones that are English language learners, ones who have special needs, and other factors intended to up the funding for districts with the largest needs.

“It’s time that we get behind education and put our money where our mouth is … It bothers me that we have children out there that do not get a good education in this state and it should make you mad too,” an emotional Roberson said to his colleagues in the chamber as he explained that this bill would be the largest education funding source in state history.

“It’s time that we started making things happen for these kids and if you don’t stand up for them, who will?”

House Education Committee Vice Chair Kent McCarty, R-Hattiesburg, contended that the bill would allow the state to allocate more funding for impoverished or failing school districts this year than fully funding MAEP would.

Rep. McCarty also noted that among the 14 school districts in Mississippi that would see a decrease in the amount of money received by the state are Rankin and Madison County – two of the more financially sound districts – while the vast majority of schools in poor regions will see a boost in funding.

“This bill is about funding equity and public education. It is not about vouchers. It is not about anything else. It is about equitable funding and education. This bill provides equitable funding for education,” McCarty said. “I’m not here to criticize MAEP. I’m not someone who is going to tell you that MAEP is a terrible thing. I am somebody who is going to tell you that this is better than what we have because this achieves the equity that we have long said we were trying to achieve with MAEP. This puts money in the pockets of the districts that need it the most, not the districts in the state that don’t.”

Also included in the House’s proposal is the creation of a committee of 13 members that would consist of superintendents and educators tasked with presenting recommended edits to the formula to the legislature every four years.

HB 1453 now heads to the Senate, which is considering legislation that would modify the existing MAEP formula, for approval.

Mississippi currently ranks No. 44 nationally in K-12 education.

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