Mississippi legislators are moving toward a showdown on how to pay for public schools

A conflict is building among Mississippi legislative leaders over whether to tweak an education funding formula or ditch it and set a new one.

The state Senate voted Thursday, without opposition, to make a few changes to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which has been in law since 1997. The action came a day after the House voted to abandon MAEP and replace it with a new formula.

MAEP is designed to give school districts enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It is based on several factors, including costs of instruction, administration, operation and maintenance of schools, and other support services.

“It also allows superintendents of districts to know roughly what they are getting every year because we have an objective formula,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, said Thursday.

The Senate proposal could require local communities to pay a slightly larger percentage of overall school funding. It also specifies that if a student transfers from a charter school to another public school, the charter school would not keep all of the public money that it received for that student.

Legislators have fully funded MAEP only two years, and House leaders say that is an indication that a new formula is needed.

The formula proposed by the House is called INSPIRE — Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact and Reform Education. It would be based on a per-student cost determined by a group of 13 people, including eight superintendents of school districts.

House Education Committee Vice Chairman Kent McCarty, a Republican from Hattiesburg, said INSPIRE would be more equitable because school 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.

The House voted 95-13 to pass the INSPIRE plan and send it to the Senate for more work. The Senate bill moves to the House. The two chambers must resolve their differences, or abandon any proposed changes, before the legislative session ends in early May.

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, said Thursday that INSPIRE is based on statistics from an unknown source. He suggested conservative groups hostile to public education could be behind the legislation.

“All they’ve tried to do is destroy public education,” Johnson said of the groups. “They love it, they think it’s great. And all they’ve ever been for is charter schools, vouchers and public money to private schools. … Pie in the sky. Fake numbers.”

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Roberson, a Republican from Starkville, said a “communication breakdown” occurred Wednesday over information provided to Johnson during Wednesday’s House debate. Roberson said financial figures came from lawmakers who sought advice from a range of groups.

During a news conference Thursday, House Speaker Jason White said the House Republican majority is not prepared to relent on its view that lawmakers should eliminate MAEP.

“It is time to once and for all acknowledge that the MAEP formula is a thing of the past,” White said. “Very few understand it, and it certainly has not been followed.”

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.




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