Mississippi House votes to change school funding formula, but plan faces hurdles in the Senate

The Mississippi House voted Wednesday to set a new formula to calculate how much money the state will spend on public schools — a step toward abandoning a formula that has put generations of legislators under political pressure because they have fully funded it only two years since it was put into law in 1997.

The proposal is in House Bill 1453, which passed with broad bipartisan support on a vote of 95-13.

Work is far from finished. The bill will move to the Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans and has a separate proposal to revise but not abandon the current formula, known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

MAEP is designed to give school districts enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. Senators tried to revise it last year, but that effort fell short.

The formula proposed by the House is called INSPIRE — Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact and Reform Education. Republican Rep. Kent McCarty of Hattiesburg said it would create a more equitable way of paying for schools because districts would receive extra money if they have large concentrations of poverty or if they enroll large numbers of students who have special needs or are learning English as a second language.

“This puts money in the pockets of the districts that need it the most,” McCarty, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, said Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Rob Roberson of Starkville, the committee chairman, said INSPIRE would put more money into public schools than has ever been spent in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the U.S.

“It bothers me that we have children out there that do not get a good education in this state,” Roberson said. “It should make you mad, too.”

Full funding of MAEP would cost nearly $3 billion for the budget year that begins July 1, according to the state Department of Education. That would be about $643 million more than the state is spending on the formula during the current year, an increase of about 17.8%.

Democratic Rep. Bob Evans of Monticello asked how full funding of INSPIRE would compare to full funding of MAEP.

McCarty — noting that he was only 3 years old when MAEP was put into law — said legislators are not discussing fully funding the formula this session. He said INSPIRE proposes putting $2.975 billion into schools for the coming year, and that would be “more money than the Senate is proposing, more money than we’ve ever even thought about proposing on this side of the building.”

McCarty also said, though, that decisions about fully funding INSPIRE would be made year by year, just as they are with MAEP.

Affluent school districts, including Madison County and Rankin County in the Jackson suburbs, would see decreases in state funding under INSPIRE, McCarty said.

Nancy Loome is director of the Parents’ Campaign, a group that has long pushed legislators to fully fund MAEP. She cautioned in a statement that the House proposal would eliminate “an objective formula for the base per-student cost, which is supposed to reflect the true cost of educating a Mississippi student to proficiency in core subjects.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. In early 2022, she left the business to serve as Communications Director for St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch. After leaving the administration, Janelle briefly worked as a communications consultant for candidates, businesses and non-profits, before accepting her position as Publisher for Southeast Politics, a homecoming of sorts to her Florida Politics roots, where she served as a reporter and editor for several years. Janelle has also held roles covering the intersection of politics and business for the Tampa Bay Business Journal and general assignment news with an emphasis on social justice and climate change for WMNF Community Radio, where she also hosted a political call-in show under several names, including Last Call, Midpoint and The Scoop. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]

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