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New funding formula means shrinking districts would see state funding reduced

Mississippi school districts with declining enrollment will lose state funds under a proposed K-12 education funding formula, according to an analysis of data by the Mississippi Independent.

Most of the state's 142 school districts would gain more funds under the new formula in House Bill 957, according to data from EdBuild. Thirty-five districts would lose state money under the new formula, which would add weights or multipliers to a base student cost for low income students, special education, non-English speakers and gifted programs.

It's easy to see why a minority of school districts would lose under the new formula since all of them have lost students over the past 14 years.

The Montgomery County School District would lose 44 percent of its state funding under the new formula. The district's enrollment has shrunk from 549 students in the 2003-04 school year to 242 this year, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Moss Point has lost 52 percent of its enrollment since the 2003-04 school year and would lose 19.2 percent of its funding under the new formula.

The West Bolivar Consolidated School District, created in 2014, has lost 10 percent of its student population in just three years and would lose 13.6 percent of its state funding.

Amite County's enrollment has declined from 1,436 students to 1,024 and its funding would shrink 10.9 percent. West Tallahatchie's school population shrunk from 1,152 students in 2003-04 to 740 this school year, a decrease of 36 percent and its funding would decline by 9.7 percent.

The reason why enrollment numbers for some school districts have shrunk, yet their appropriation from the state has increased over the years is because of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the existing funding formula law. Districts usually can't receive less because of several provisions in the MAEP law unless their enrollment drops precipitously.

Of the districts that stand to lose the most state funds under the new plan, only Moss Point and West Tallahatchie have received less in the last five years, mainly because the student populations of both districts have declined by double-digit percentages.

The goal, say GOP leaders, is to pass a more student-centered formula. While Democrats want to keep the existing MAEP formula that was written when they controlled both chambers of the Legislature, super-majorities in both for Republicans will likely lead to its passage.

"When you base a formula on the student and the student's needs, that sounds like a good idea to me," said state Rep. Chris Brown (R-Nettleton). "The encouraging parts are this formula will empower the local school districts and also the money will follow the child. If they fund the child and the needs of that child, the school district should be made whole for the costs of educating that child."

HB 957, which passed the House this week and is headed to the Senate, would totally reorder how the state allocates K-12 education money to school districts. If passed into law, the new formula would give school districts no less than they received in fiscal 2018, which ends June 1, for the next two years to allow them to adjust to the changes in funding level.

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 to reflect the increased cost of secondary education. 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 — when all the add-ons are applied — was $5,468. The MAEP uses a calculation based on several measures from successful districts to arrive at a base student cost.

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