Mississippi Legislature likely to tackle school choice and funding formula redo
The Mississippi Legislature will start its annual session on January 2 and plenty of issues will likely be considered during the three-month session. Among the issues to be considered include a rewrite of the state's K-12 education funding formula, expansion of the state's education scholarship program, more money for infrastructure and opioid regulation.
Funding formula rewrite
The rewrite of the two decades old Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which has only been fully funded twice, has been a goal of Republican leadership in the Legislature for years. Critics say the formula isn't student centered and is often millions more than legislators are willing to spend on K-12 education. Last year, the Legislature contracted New Jersey-based non-profit EdBuild to design a new formula, but a bill wasn't forthcoming.
This year, a bill is likely, but what form it will take is a mystery. The key debates will be over the per-student cost and the 27 percent rule, which governs the amount of local contribution from property taxes that individual school districts have to raise.
Mississippi school districts receive funding from two sources: state contributions from the MAEP and other state funds and local property taxes. Under present law, no school district has to pay for more than 27 percent of the minimum calculated cost of public education. The expected property tax contribution of every district is 28 mills (2.8 percent of a home's assessed value for tax purposes) and if that value exceeds 27 percent of the total funding for the district, the formula subtracts 27 percent, which is the lesser figure.
This means wealthier districts such as Madison County and Ocean Springs receive what EdBuild in its funding proposal called a $120 million subsidy. Legislators who represent areas with wealthier school districts would likely fight any attempt to end or reduce the practice.
Education scholarship program
Legislators are already contemplating expanding the state's education scholarship program for special needs to all students. The new ESA program would redirect state money for each child to parents to pay for private school tuition, books and other learning aids like the special needs program. Two other states have expanded their ESA programs to all students.
The concept will likely run into opposition from pro-public school forces in the Legislature, but passage would make the state one of the nation's leaders in school choice.
The state's infrastructure has been a hot potato in the past two sessions and several attempts to pass a gas tax or other tax increase have failed.
The Mississippi Economic Council said in a December 2015 report the state needs at least $375 million in additional spending on the state’s highways, financed by either increases in the state’s 18.4 cent per gallon gasoline tax (22.4 cents per gallon in Mississippi’s three coastal counties) or a hike on car registration fees.
With the November 19 elections drawing closer, most members would like to have to avoid answering to voters after passing a gasoline tax or other tax increase. After passing a more than $400 million tax cut last year, increasing the gasoline tax would appear to be shifting the burden from corporations to individuals.
The state's Board of Medical Licensure approved a set of opioid regulations that will restrict a doctor's ability to prescribe the pain medications and add more record-keeping responsibilities associated with them. With many doctors unhappy with the regulations, expect the Legislature to take a swing at some legislation on opioids.
Key deadlines this year include:
January 15 - Last day for introduction of general (non-budgetary) bills.
January 30 - Final day for committee action on general bills.
February 8 - Last day for floor action in the originating house on general bills.
February 9 - Deadline for reconsideration and final passage of general bills by originating house.
February 12 - Final day for motions to reconsider on general bills from own chamber.
February 21 - Deadline for floor action on appropriations and revenue bills from originating chamber.
February 22 - Deadline for reconsideration and passage of appropriations and revenue bills from own house.
February 23 - Deadline for motions to reconsider on appropriations and revenue bills from originating chamber.
February 27 - Deadline for committees to report on bills originating from the other house.
March 7 - Deadline for floor action on general bills from the other chamber.
March 8 - Last day for reconsideration and passage of general bills from the other house.
March 9 - Final day to dispose of motions to reconsider on general bills from the other chamber.
March 13 - Deadline for floor action on appropriations and revenue bills from the other house.
March 14 - Deadline for reconsideration and passage of appropriations and revenue bills from other house.
March 15 - Last day for disposal of motions to reconsider on appropriations and revenue bills from other house.
March 24 - Deadline for conference reports to be filled on appropriations and revenue bills.
March 26 - Final day for adoption of conference reports on appropriations and revenue bills and for conference reports to be filed on general bills.
March 27 - Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider on conference reports from appropriations and revenue bills.
April 2 - End of session.