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Mississippi House speaker looks to change formula for funding public schools

Jason White

Speaker Jason White made waves Monday when he revealed the House of Representatives will consider scrapping the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) for what he considers a better avenue for K-12 funding.

White broke the news during The Gallo Show, saying the new formula will be more coherent than the MAEP, which was created in 1997 but has only been fully funded twice as lawmakers argue year in and year out over how the basics should be delivered to operating school districts.

“It will scrap the MAEP formula,” White said, adding that the new program should not only be easier to understand but also easier to fully fund. “It would go to a more student-based, student-weighted funding formula that you or I could understand.”

In the House bill – which goes against one currently being considered in the Senate to modify and fully fund MAEP – the new formula’s funding would not be based on teacher units or what schools received in previous years. Rather, the objective is for the individual student to be prioritized based on their specific needs, according to White.

“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.”

Moving away from the MAEP’s “27 percent rule,” which requires local school districts to pay a maximum of 27 percent of the total cost of their part in the program while the state covers the rest, the updated formula could require districts to compensate an elevated share of the program or even nothing at all, depending on the resources at a district’s disposal.

“We’re not going to do things simply because that’s the way we have always done them,” White continued. “We want to change the funding formula and get it boiled down to a more student-by-student basis with weighted measures based on all other aspects.”

There will even be a school choice element to the proposal. Under the new model, a student would be able to transfer from one school district to another without the consent of both districts. Only the receiving school’s consent would be required. The state’s share of money designed for that specific student would follow the pupil to whatever school the individual is enrolled at.

Likewise, the proposal will make the process of switching schools even easier for students in “D” or “F” rated districts. White outlined that students in academically challenged areas would be able to transfer to the school of their liking, including private institutions, and that the state would allocate its designated sum of funding for the children toward tuition at a private school.

The goal at hand is not to undermine public schools in less affluent areas but to empower parents to have their child placed in an educational facility that has the capability of catering to the specific needs of that child without the family having to relocate to a different part of the state.

“People prefer their local public school. There is no denying that. Nobody is trying to undo that. This is simply recognizing that there are people who have different needs for their kids and there are places in this state that don’t have the same choices that some folks do simply by their zipcode,” White added. “Everybody can’t pick up and move. It’s an issue and a problem. I think it’s very short-sighted to say, ‘You’ve got to pick up and move.'”

White, carrying the torch passed by former House Speaker Philip Gunn, is continuing the trend of the chamber’s top member vouching for a new method to fully fund education without involving MAEP. With the House and Senate looking to be at odds over the method by which public schools receive appropriations from the state, it appears that a repeat of the last session could ensue barring a grand compromise by the two chambers.

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

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