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Mississippi on track for record education funding, but House could still derail the plan


The Mississippi House’s proud proclamation earlier this session that they had voted to spend the most money in the history of the state on public education is no longer true.

Now the state Senate can make that boast — by a smidgen.

The Kindergarten through 12th grade appropriations bill approved last week by the Senate provides about $6 million more for local schools than the House proposed earlier this session. The Senate is proposing about $256 million more than the $3.08 billion being spent in state funds for the current year.

In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will have to reach an agreement on a budget for public education for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The escalation in spending on public education is being spurred, at least in part, by the ongoing dispute between the two chambers on whether to rewrite the long-standing Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides state funds for the basic operation of schools.

House leaders, some of whom historically have opposed MAEP because they said it provided too much money for public education, are trying desperately this session to replace it.

The Senate, on the other hand, has proposed tweaks to the MAEP and has agreed to study the issue of the funding formula after the 2024 session ends in May with the intent of replacing or making changes to MAEP in the 2025 session.

House Speaker Jason White, R-West, does not want to wait until next year. In an effort to entice support for his plan this session, the House proposed and touted record K-12 spending if legislators would agree to eliminate MAEP.

Instead, the Senate chose to place even more money into public education but place the money in the current MAEP funding formula. The Senate proposal also includes $50 million for a teacher pay raise ($1,000 per teacher) that is incorporated into MAEP.

On the surface, the oneupmanship on education spending is good for the schools, teachers and students. After all, it could lead to more funds for education.

But supporters of the House plan to rewrite the MAEP say the only way they will agree to that record spending is to replace the MAEP.

White seems to be saying education will not get any additional money unless MAEP is rewritten.

“I have clearly communicated with Senate leadership the House position that we have funded MAEP for the last time,” White said in a statement.

Of course, even though the House leadership does not like the MAEP funding formula, it is still the law of the land and the primary vehicle to send state funds to school districts. The bulk of funds local school districts receive and have received since at least 2003 comes through the MAEP funding formula.

Theoretically, the Legislature could send all the funds to the local school districts outside of the MAEP formula. The funds could be sent to the schools based on some version of their enrollment.

Of course, under that scenario, wealthy districts would benefit greatly. MAEP sends more state funds to poor districts that have less funds to contribute toward their schools.

The House has contended that the intent of their funding formulas is to provide even more funds than MAEP to poor school districts.

There is legitimate debate on whether the House plan accomplishes that goal. But assuming it does, it is still not the law.

So, if House leaders insisted on sending the funds to the local school districts outside of the MAEP formula, they would be doing what they say they oppose — providing even more money to wealthy school districts at the expense of poor districts.

And, of course, if they do not appropriate any funds for education, well, that can’t be very good for school children.

This analysis was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.

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