While Democrats are concerned with transparency and funding, the process toward replacing the state's present K-12 education funding formula is gaining traction in the Mississippi House.
At a joint meeting of the House Education and Appropriations committees on Monday, state Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach) explained that House Bill 957 would mark the transition from an input-based formula that takes into account teacher numbers and other measures to one based on student needs.
He also said the new formula — known as the Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula — with its weight-based system would be simpler to understand than the existing Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula.
If passed, the new formula would go into effect in fiscal 2019 and for the first five years after its passage, school districts wouldn't receive any less than they receive in fiscal 2018. After that period, the Legislature would be bound by law to re-evaluate the formula and again every four years following.
The proposal is based on non-profit EdBuild's proposed formula, but there are some key differences, including retention of the 27 percent rule, the calculation of student attendance numbers and changes to how the at-risk portion of the formula is calculated.
The 27 percent rule governs the amount of local contribution from property taxes that individual school districts have to raise. 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.
Calculation of the at-risk component would also change. Under present law, the amount of students on free and reduced lunch were the main measure for the at-risk part of the formula, but that is now problematic because of an Obama administration initiative, the Community Eligibility Provision for the free and reduced lunch program.
The regulation allows districts and individual schools with a majority of students in the program to enroll all of their students. Most, if not all, of Mississippi’s school districts would be eligible to apply for the program.
Under Gunn's plan, the at-risk component would be computed using data from the United States Census Bureau in the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates.
The new formula would provide a base student cost of $4,800 for each child in kindergarten through eighth grade and that number would increase to $6,240 for high school children. There would be multipliers (also known as weights) for special education, sparse school districts (defined in the bill as a district with four or less students per square mile), gifted students and non-English speakers.
EdBuild called for a base student cost of between $4,694 and $5,250. The base student cost in the fiscal 2018 calculation for the MAEP was $5,468. The MAEP uses a calculation based on several measures from successful districts to arrive at a base student cost.
The measure of how many students each district serves would go from average daily attendance to average daily membership, which would be audited three times yearly by the state auditor. ADM would be calculated by enrollment for a three-month period divided by the number of instructional days students and teachers are in class.
School districts would be freed from various restrictions on K-12 funding, but would have to submit more data to the Mississippi Department of Education for formula calculation purposes.
The nearly 20-year old MAEP is a bit more complex: Average daily attendance times base student cost, plus at-risk component minus local contribution plus 8-percent guarantee. Then, only after add-on programs — transportation, special education, gifted education, vocational education and alternative education — are added to the formula allocation, do you get the final MAEP funding number.
The formula rewrite bill is drawing heavy criticism from Democrats and pro-public school advocates who want to keep the MAEP in place. State Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory) assailed the potential rewrite, blasting House leadership for bringing forward a "farce" of a bill to wipe out the existing MAEP formula. He said the bill was a "vampire" that wouldn't stand up to scrutiny in the light of day and was dropped last week after legislators had gone home for the week.
The pro-public schools advocacy group the Parents Campaign has already come out against the measure, saying that it would be "devastating" to school districts financially. The group also criticized HB 957 for not having a formula to compute the base student cost and for not having an inflationary component like the MAEP, which caused the calculation to increase every four years. The Parents Campaign also said there is no formula to calculate the base student cost as in the MAEP.