EdBuild proposal could shift more to local taxpayers for wealthier school districts

Published 7:27 am Tuesday, January 17, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s per-pupil education spending would remain at least the same or could even increase, but more of the cost could be shifted to local taxpayers rather than the state budget under proposals for a new school funding formula that consultants presented to lawmakers Monday.

The per-pupil cost would depend on several variables, including how much would be spent on technology, classroom supplies and professional development for teachers.

Wealthier school districts could be in line to receive less money from the state. But schools could receive more for educating low-income students and those who don’t speak English as their first language.

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The proposals are in a report by EdBuild, a New Jersey-based consulting group that Mississippi’s Republican legislative leaders hired in October.

“We believe that a student-centered funding formula should take into consideration that every type of special learning need actually produces a cost for school districts that should be adequately funded in order to make sure that all students are treated fairly,” EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia said after her presentation.

The current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was put into law in 1997 by what was then a Democratic-controlled Legislature over the veto of a Republican governor. The formula is designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It was phased in over several years and has been fully funded only two years, making lawmakers a constant target from critics who say they are not fully committed to schools.

Under MAEP, the state is supposed to spend $4,677 per student, according to the EdBuild report. Under the EdBuild recommendations, the base student cost would range between $4,694 and $5,250.

As with MAEP, full funding would be a year-by-year decision by legislative budget writers.

“Unless there’s a metamorphosis on the kind of thinking that we as legislators do toward public education, nothing will change,” Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, told Sibilia after Monday’s meeting.

EdBuild recommends that Mississippi phase in a new school funding formula over five to eight years.

Mississippi currently guarantees at least 73 percent of school funding will come from the state budget, with the balance coming from local districts. Sibilia told lawmakers that the national average is 55 percent from the state, and Mississippi should consider reducing its portion. Doing that would shift more of the school funding burden to local districts, and that could translate into higher property taxes.

House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, praised the EdBuild report.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have a whole lot of districts very happy,” Moore said. He added, however, that some districts would receive less money from the state.

“I believe my county would be one on the list to get less money,” said Moore, who lives in Rankin County, a relatively affluent area in the Jackson suburbs.

Critics say they want to see how the overall proposal would affect each part of the state.

“The Legislature shouldn’t seriously consider anything until we’ve got the real impact on local districts,” said Nancy Loome, leader of the Parents’ Campaign, an education advocacy group.

Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, who helped push MAEP into law, said he believes the EdBuild proposal could lead to public money being sent to private schools through vouchers.

“Secondly, I’m concerned that they’re going to replace existing law with a formula — assuming anyone can ever understand the formula — a formula which produces less money than existing law provides,” Bryan said. “And if that’s not the case, why don’t they run the numbers and give us the printout?”