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Mississippi Lawmakers Ask: Time To Scrap MAEP?

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 16 Dec 2012 03:13pm | comments

MAEP is the funding formula for Mississippi schools. It was crafted to pick up the slack where local revenue was insufficient to support public schools. But it is rarely fully funded. In the final segment of Education Session Preview, MPB's Capitol Reporter Jeffrey Hess and Southern Education Desk Reporter Annie Gilbertson report some Republicans are now considering scraping the formula all together.

Gilbertson: Jeff, I feel like our entire education session series has been devoted to discussing Republican education agenda items. And they have the majority; they are driving the train, but what about the Democratic agenda?

Hess: Democrats are asking for the same thing they ask for every year – full funding for education.  That is, full-funding of the MAEP formula, short for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Democratic Senator David Blount of Hinds County says full-funding accomplishes two things.

Blount: One – it ensures school districts have enough money to offer a quality education or literally an adequate education. And number two – it ensures equity among poor districts and rich districts, urban districts and rural districts.

Gilbertson: In the decade or so it’s been around, the formula has only been fully funded twice. Even when it has been fully funded, the US Census shows Mississippi’s per pupil expenditure remains one of the lowest in the country.

Hess: At this point, very few start the session believing full-funding is a possibility. Even the Interim State Superintendent, Dr. Lynn House, who asked the joint legislative budget committee for full funding, does not expect her request to be met.

Gilbertson: A handful of Republican lawmakers used her request as a launching point to discuss scrapping the formula all together.  And on the other hand, some Democrats and public education advocates have criticized the Superintendent’s  approach as “hat in hand”, calling it an apologetic request for funding.

Hess: Dr House responded that the Mississippi Department of Education has no allegiance to this particular formula.

House: We are rather benign on whether this is the only way you can figure adequacy. We just want to ensure what is in the law makes sense so they have the funding they need.

Gilbertson: And so the conversation began. Some say it’s time to reevaluate and come up with a new policy. Others say leave the formula alone and fully fund it. Here’s Democratic Senator David Blount and Republican Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.

 

Blount: I do worry about any changes to MAEP that could diminish the equity formula. And it also can be used as an excuse to not fund our schools the way they should be funded.

Gunn: I mean, when you got a formula that has been in existence for what? 14 or 15 years now? And the legislature has only been able to fund it twice! It raises questions about whether it is a good formula or not.

Hess: Stakeholders on both sides point to revenue. Republicans and some Democrats say there just isn’t enough. The only two years MAEP was funded was just after Katrina, when an influx of federal recovery money set state revenue records.

Gilbertson: So we need a natural disaster to fully-fund MAEP?

Hess: That’s where Democrats disagree. Some use the Katrina example as a platform for raising revenue, arguing a similar influx of money for schools could only be repeated through higher state taxes. Others say it can be fully funded by using unallocated funds or shifting funds from other services.

Gilbertson: Those positions are voiced every year. A new leading voice on the issue of MAEP is less expected. Stacey Pickering, the State Auditor, has used his investigations into schools to argue the formula has many components that can’t be validated.

Pickering: “Because the definitions are not uniform across the state from school district to school district. They cannot be audited by federal law, so they shouldn’t be in the formula to start with. And we shouldn’t be using that to base this much of our state budged on.”

Hess: For example, attendance. Daily attendance is one of many ways the formula calculates how much to send schools. Pickering says some schools require students to be present 75 percent of the day, while others only do a head count at 9 am. 

Gilbertson: Whether or not lawmakers crack open the formula; they’ll, of course, have to agree on some amount for Mississippi schools.

Hess: Early budget recommendations released in recent weeks suggest MAEP will receive the same amount it received last session or slightly above. If law makers follow that guidance, MAEP would come in around 300-million dollars short – the biggest gap in funding formula history. For MPB News, I’m Jeffrey Hess.
Gilbertson: And from the Southern Education Desk, I’m Annie Gilbertson.

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