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Senate shelves House education funding rewrite. DeBar vows to work on it in off season

The Senate on Tuesday voted down House legislation to rewrite and remove the objective formula used to determine the amount of money local school districts should receive for their basic operations.

The Senate had the option under legislative rules of inviting conference to negotiate differences in education funding formula bills passed by the House and Senate or accepting the House proposal and sending the bill to the governor.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, made the unusual motion to not concur but did not make a motion to invite conference. That essentially killed the bill.

Theoretically, a senator could make another motion Wednesday and revive the legislation. But DeBar said his goal is to work with House Education Chairman Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, the state Department of Education and outside experts in the legislative off session on the complex issue of how the education funding formula should be adjusted or changed.

“I am willing and committed to work in the off session … to address the funding formula for education …,” DeBar said.

DeBar said he did not see the House’s education funding formula proposal until relatively late in the session.

“I think it is imperative to look at it together and move slowly in doing it,” he said. “I don’t think when we address a third of the state budget we should do it in a rush.”

DeBar said it is the Senate’s intention to put an additional $200 million into kindergarten through 12th grade public education this session and to study the funding formula to possibly be changed or replaced in the 2025 session.

The Senate’s intention to place more funds into education could lead to a legislative showdown in the coming weeks as efforts are made to finalize a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1.

House Speaker Jason White, R-West, has said he would not support placing additional money into public education unless the longstanding Mississippi Adequate Education Program is replaced.

The MAEP was passed in 1997 and fully enacted in 2003. In recent years many members of the legislative leadership have tried to replace MAEP, saying the state could not afford it.

House leaders, though, say their current proposal would place an additional $230 million into education and would provide extra funds for low-income students and others who face educational challengers, such as non-English learners.

White of the House plan recently told Mississippi Today, “I think when you sit down and objectively look at it, honest to God, it is fairer, more equitable and actually puts money to fund kids where it is needed.”

But many education advocates have been critical of the House plan because it does not include an objective formula to determine the amount of money needed for the basic operation of schools.

Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents Campaign, a public education advocacy group, said the House plan had laudable features. But she said her group opposed the plan because it left it up to the Legislature to determine the amount of money needed to provide for the basic operation of schools. She said the plan has a feature requiring education experts to make a recommendation on the funding level to legislators, but the plan does not mandate that recommendation be adopted by legislators.

The Senate proposed changes to MAEP, but DeBar said any rewrite should include an objective funding formula.

— Article credit to Bobby Harrison of Mississippi Today

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