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Mississippi Senate throws curveball, sets spiral in motion for brand new public school funding formula

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In an unforeseen turn of events, the Mississippi Senate has changed its tune on how to fund public education in the state and will be adopting a proposal brought forth by the House of Representatives.

Lawmakers in both chambers had been at odds over a funding formula with leaders in the Senate wanting to modify the oft-criticized Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) and the House offering the INSPIRE Act as a means to scrap the current formula for an entirely new one.

Nonetheless, after months of infighting at the capitol, compromise is on the horizon. Republican House Speaker Jason White joined The Gallo Show on Friday morning with an update from Jackson. According to the speaker, the Senate moved to suspend the deadline to introduce legislation to allow the House to usher in an entirely new education funding bill — one White says will have INSPIRE language, just without the title “INSPIRE” attached to it.

“MAEP is not going to be with us anymore come July 1,” White said. “They wanted us to introduce a new bill that does away with MAEP and basically writes the INSPIRE formula into a new bill.”

The House initially passed the INSPIRE Act on March 6 and the bill later received a ringing endorsement from Gov. Tate Reeves. INSPIRE would provide a minimal base student cost of $6,650, though the Senate has asked for that number to be upped. Mississippi’s public schools would receive 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.

Senate leaders, while not married to MAEP, were hesitant to move forward with the House’s approach without first having discussions with figureheads in education as well as parents before completely changing the landscape of public education funding. However, that changed in recent days as the house speaker persistently dug his heels into the notion that he would not fund MAEP this year.

According to White, schools across the state in dire need of additional funding will be compensated at a higher rate than in previous years under his plan. He estimates that the Hinds County Schol District, in particular, will be allocated between $15 and $20 million more than it had been given in the past.

“It’s a good day for public education in Mississippi,” White added. “This will probably lead to $200 million new dollars and they will be fairly and transparently distributed throughout the state to all of our public school districts.”

Though schools, by and large, will be funded at a higher level under the new formula, White is clear that the state will do away with hold-harmless agreements that restrict declines in revenue to districts regardless of their student population or overall performance.

White’s insistence on completely changing the state’s public school funding formula stemmed from criticism that MAEP, which has only been funded three times since its 1997 inception, is flawed and fails to put the interests of pupils first.

Now that the Senate has acquiesced to the request of its cross-chamber counterpart, the House plans to pass a rules suspension on Friday to set the spiral in motion to do away with MAEP and institute the brand new formula as legislators plan to work through the weekend.

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