The third week of the 2018 legislative session was an interesting week and cold weather was another major topic. Myself and about 20 other legislators stay in RVs during the session. Its nice to have your own place and it avoids staying in a hotel for the three month session. When the weather is below 20 degrees, an RV is a challenge. Several of us have experienced frozen water pipes and some have run out of propane for heat. We are all hoping for warmer weather the rest of this session.
The big legislative topic this week is the House of Representatives passage of a new education funding formula. The new formula is the culmination of a year and a half of research, debate, and study by the Mississippi legislature. Last year House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves hired EdBuild, a national consulting firm to study our current state funding formula and help devise a new more equitable plan for our state. Legislators have attended meetings with EdBuild and during this past summer many of us met with Speaker Gunn to express our concerns and our desires as the new formula was being developed.
I am happy to say that I fully support the new formula. It meets the basic requirements that I expressed to the Speaker; equitable and fair treatment of all school districts, provides clear accountability measures to ensure honesty of each districts reporting, and is sustainable and affordable for the state.
MISSISSIPPI ADEQUATE EDUCATION PROGRAM (MAEP)
The MAEP education formula, whether intended or not, has always been confusing and used as political ammunition for one side or the other. The formula's standards, according to the State Auditor, were impossible to audit due to different applications from district to district. The formula required continual increases in funding that were impossible for the state to maintain. Even while spending over 50% of the state's revenue on education, full funding was unattainable.
THE NEW FUNDING FORMULA
This new formula does not go into effect until 2019
This new formula increases the overall investment in education by over $107 million in its estimated final implementation year. (Five-year period.)
The new formula does not increase taxes nor does it require local government to contribute more towards their local schools
The new formula uses Average Daily Membership (a single head count conducted three times during the school year) instead of Average Daily Attendance. This reduces the administrative burden placed on districts, and ensures that more time, money, and effort are diverted to the classroom
Setting the base student funding level:
EdBuild reviewed Mississippi’s school district spending and national trends in a number of school spending categories. The base funding amount per student that they provided was a range between $4,694 and $5,250. The House has decided to set the base at $4,800.
The new formula uses a base amount of $4,800 which places the state ahead of nearby states that use a student-based formula like Louisiana ($3,961), Florida ($4,204), Georgia ($2,464), and South Carolina ($2,350)
Funding special populations:
The new formula values all similar students at the same level; no matter where they live or what district they attend. Under MAEP, there is no rhyme or reason to how special populations of students are calculated. For example: under MAEP one district received $1400 for every special education student while another received only $800.
The formula uses “weights” to increase per-student funding in 6 categories: Poverty, English Language Learners, Special Education, Gifted, Rural Area (Transportation) and High School Attendance.
The current formula (MAEP) provides 5% more money above base student funding for “at-risk” students. While the definition of “at-risk” has been changed to a measure of “Poverty," this bill increases the weight for “Poverty” to 25% above the base student cost, and better targets funds to the districts serving the highest needs students.
The new formula will provide an additional $8.7 million for English Language Learners for the first time in the state’s history. 20% more than base student cost.
Special Education is split into three tiers and weighted at 60%, 125%, and 170%, respectively.
Gifted students receive 25% increase over base student cost.
Rural areas of the state may receive a 10% increase over base student cost to compensate for higher transportation costs.
The new formula acknowledges the cost of delivering a robust and rigorous high school education cost more than K-8. This formula provides an additional 30% above the base student cost for all high school students. That equals $190 million for high school students, compared to $41.2 million in investment last year.
LEGISLATIVE COMMITMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The new funding formula bill (HB957) reaffirms the legislature’s commitment to removing the administrative burden and unnecessary spending requirements in law by mandating that MS Department of Education (MDE) submit a plan to eliminate overly bureaucratic regulations by next year.
The bill establishes a new financial transparency model and rating model that compares spending across “peer groups” in order to create a continuous evaluation loop between the amount of money that districts are spending and the equally important reflection of what the legislature is providing.
The bill creates three unique study committees to provide input to the legislature on education accreditation standards, Individual Education Programs (IEP)-based funding needs, and Early Learning Funding Continuum.
The new funding formula,House Bill 957, is the House position on education funding. Now that it has passed the House it moves to the Senate. I am sure the Senate will have ideas that were not included in the House plan so it will be important to watch and listen as they debate how to best fund our educational system.
I remain committed to fight for a funding plan that is equitable, provides accountability and is sustainable. As we move through this process I will do my best to keep you informed of the decisions that are being made.