JACKSON, MISS– State lawmakers and the non-profit EdBuild held an open forum Thursday at the State Capitol to address concerns from the public regarding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) Formula and intentions to change it.
EdBuild is a non-profit out of New Jersey hired by legislative committees to make recommendations on school funding policies on the (MAEP) formula and how it may be altered.
The meeting was presided over by Representative Jason White, chairman of House Rules Committee, and Senator Terry Burton, President Pro-Tempore and chairman of Senate Rules Committee.
“The purpose of this meeting isn’t question-and-answer,” said Sen. Burton. “This is to let them (EdBuild) know your concerns.”
Of the speakers, while divided on whether or not the formula should be changed, many agreed that more public meetings in various locations need to be held to increase knowledge and awareness of public opinion on the issue. Another common request: thoroughly evaluate the base student costs within the formula, and determine how it can be improved.
Jeremy Eisler Mississippi Center for Justice was first to speak.
“There are two critical components of any formula,” said Eisler. “It must be funded, and any base formula must allow for adjustments.”
Eisler said this is not the case with the MAEP formula as it stands today, and that special education students and low-income areas are not adequately supported.
“It is not fair to those students, it is not fair to those schools, and it is not fair to the taxpayers.”
Many teachers and advocates were not convinced that adjustments need to happen, but that it needed to be funded, citing the fact that in 18 years, the formula had only been funded twice–both times on election years.
An anonymous teacher sent her statements through a proxy, and said that infrastructure is a major issue, and that those attempting to work with public school funding should visit the schools.
“Sit there in that classroom,” she said. “And ask yourself if you can learn here. Use the bathrooms, try to use the water fountains.. ask those who are there what they need.”
Another teacher, not identifying the school district in which she teaches, said the lawmakers are out of touch with the students and their needs.
“You don’t know how 150 students are sharing 28 books in a school without a copy machine,” said the teacher. “Before making those changes, you must reach out to your constituents. They are impacted by this. Until you can reach out.. you’re not worthy of their vote. If this state wants to move forward economically… it must write an MAEP formula that benefits all students.”
She received a round of applause, which was quickly quieted by the panel for the sake of time.
“We ask that before the formula be re-evaluated, it be fully funded for a number of years first,” said a representative with the Southern Echo. The non-profit, according to its website, is a leadership development, education and training organization working to develop effective accountable grassroots leadership in the African-American communities in rural Mississippi and the surrounding region through comprehensive training and technical assistance programs.
A parent took to the podium, and said the answers are simple, and re-evaluating is not necessary.
“The legislature needs to fund the formula,” she said. “Funding public education isn’t rocket science. Follow the K.I.S.S. method. Keep it simple, stupid… Keep the formula, fund it. Do us a favor.. stop here, stop now… put your efforts into funding it. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.”
That parent received an ovation, but Sen. Terry Burton told the crowd to please keep expressions of emotion to themselves.
Another person, a retired teacher disagreed, and said more time needs to be put into this revamping effort.
“Hold more meetings,” she said. “An hour is not long enough. Hold more meetings. Conduct surveys. Hold meetings around the state… They (the children) deserve the very best education. If you want to hear from them, you’re going to have to make it a lot easier for them to speak.”
Julia Weaver brought a letter signed by 80 people.
“We, the undersigned, are concerned that the legislature have not funded the formula in recent years,” Weaver said. “As you study Mississippi schools, we ask you to consider the following: make this process transparency, and make it easier for parents and teachers to participate… be prepared to show your work, so the public knows how you reached your recommendations. We cannot afford to go backwards.”
Several parents spoke, from various school districts, calling out the state legislature for not fully funding MAEP in the past.
“Low wealth districts cannot overcome (from lack of funding),” said a parent from Madison county. “And high income districts, like my own, can barely do it.” She also asked EdBuild workers to ignore “we can’t afford it” requests from lawmakers.
The move to hire EdBuild has been a hot topic throughout the legislative body, with many questioning the transparency and intention of the process.
Parents and teachers present at the meeting also questioned the secrecy.
“Secrecy has never been our friend,” said a parent. “So when we get a meeting suddenly announced at a terrible time of the day in the middle of the week… my daughter will be fine. I’m here for the women in the Delta who don’t have a ride.. for the women on the Coast who don’t have the internet. Secrecy is not our friend. We have a long history of making quick decisions.”
Representative Jay Hughes alleged that the two committees that hired EdBuild had done so in secret over a period of a couple of weeks, however, at the announcement of EdBuild’s hiring, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn had said he was not sure how long it had been discussed, but then backtracked to say it had been a couple of months.
Perceived secrecy surrounding EdBuild has continued to fan the flame of controversy around the hiring of the organization.
On Tuesday, November 15, the House Management Committee adopted an addendum to an existing policy regarding the confidentiality of contracts, such as EdBuild, limiting access to contracts and their terms to lawmakers only.
Representative Hughes argued that this is “the end of transparency” because the terms would not be made public, Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden said this actually expanded transparency, since prior to the policy adoption, only committee members had access to these records. While lawmakers now have access to contracts, such as EdBuild, they are not able to photocopy them or share the terms publicly.
EdBuild CEO Rebecca Siblia told the media at the first meeting with lawmakers that the organization had been tasked with making recommendations on alterations for the MAEP formula by the end of the year, in time for these to be addressed in the next legislative session. Siblia then told the media that EdBuild would continue to work with the legislature through the session and process.
To express your concerns on public school funding, email email@example.com.