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Senate scraps House education funding proposal, instead offers $260M in K-12 funding

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The Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate remain at odds over how to best fund public education.

On Tuesday, the Senate elected not to move forward with the House’s plan to implement what lawmakers call the INSPIRE Act, a funding formula that would move the state away from the oft-criticized Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) which has only been fully funded three times since its inception in 1997.

Senate Education Committee Chair Dennis DeBar, R-Leaksville, motioned to neither send an amended version of the legislation back to the House nor to further the discussions in conference. Instead, the Senate proposed a different set of bills to provide an additional $206 million to K-12 public schools and $50 million for teacher pay raises while keeping the MAEP intact. Another $50 million is intended to go toward raising the pay of personnel at Mississippi community colleges and public universities.

In a press release, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann made assurances that he is not against modifying or moving away from the MAEP. However, he is not willing to jump the gun on any drastic shift without additional conversations with education leaders and parents.

“We are not married to the current formula. We do, however, believe any appropriation as significant as that which funds our school systems should be vetted and discussed with stakeholders including parents, educators, and the public at large,” Hosemann’s official statement reads. “Studying the issue together, in connection with the Department of Education and our new superintendent, will hopefully result in a new, long-term sustainable formula both chambers can agree on which is good for students and schools.”

First-year House Speaker Jason White was not as gung-ho over the Senate’s decision to kill both the INSPIRE Act and their own proposal to slightly modify and fully fund MAEP as his cross-chamber counterparts were. As a longtime advocate for a new funding formula, White believes he and his fellow representatives were slighted by not being given the chance to openly discuss the matter in conference.

White’s office released the following statement:

“Today, the Senate took an active role to deny an increase of more than $250 million to Mississippi’s K-12 public education system. The House has been willing and open to work with the Senate on their suggestions to move away from the archaic MAEP formula and build a formula that is equitable, fair, and student-centered.

The Senate took the extraordinary and unusual step to kill the INSPIRE Act funding formula prematurely in addition to killing their own attempt to rectify the issues with MAEP. Mississippi’s public school children will be directly impacted by the Senate’s lack of willingness to engage in the debate to address the current broken and flawed formula. By refusing to have meaningful discussion on this issue and enter into the Conference phase of the legislative process, the Senate has moved to preserve the status quo which will result in less funds to public schools and inadequate distribution in an unfair and inequitable manner.

As Speaker of the House, I have clearly communicated with Senate leadership the House position that we have funded MAEP for the last time. As we near the end of the legislative session, the House will continue to look for ways to fund education with a student-centered formula.”

White has held a strong stance throughout the session that he refuses to allocate additional dollars to public education until MAEP is scrapped for a new formula. He believes the House’s plan was a more efficient plan to propel students in both struggling and successful districts.

Opponents of MAEP, such as White, have long argued that the formula is flawed and does not put the interests of pupils first. That being said, the INSPIRE Act has not been floated around the Capitol without attracting critics as some contend the plan does not include an objective formula to provide direct funding for everyday operations at public schools.

Lawmakers will be forced to either come to a compromise or leave public education hanging out to dry as budget discussions loom with the state’s upcoming fiscal year set to begin on July 1.

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