On Monday, two months into the three-month session, the Senate Education Committee chairman announced plans to change the state’s complex education funding formula, known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP.
The next day, having seen the actual changes only minutes before the plan was offered as an amendment on the Senate floor, all senators voted for the changes with no questions asked. In private conversations, senators referred to this as a “leadership vote,” which means Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann pressed them to vote for it. The Senate also voted for a related appropriations bill to “fully fund” the MAEP formula, which will cost an additional $181 million this coming school year.
In its favor, the Senate plan would revise the annual inflation adjustment to reflect the average inflation rate of the previous 20 years, and after another year, it would remove a “hold harmless” provision that has allowed several districts to continue receiving funding for students that have long since left those districts.
However, the Senate proposal fails to make changes that would be even more important. We believe MAEP needs revision. It is unnecessarily complex and inefficient. Very few people understand how it actually works. It needs to be more transparent to school districts and to the public. And it needs to be more focused on students’ needs.
You might remember the House voted a few years ago to make substantial changes to the formula. The product they delivered was a student-centered formula, which means it was based on the needs of individual students. This approach meant that the funding would follow a student to whatever school he or she attended, and the amount would ensure that the school had the necessary funding to meet the needs of the child. That proposal passed the House but died in the Senate.
Those proposed changes were not perfect, but they would have moved our state toward a formula that gives students their best opportunity at success based on their specific needs. The plan passed by the Senate this week does not accomplish that goal.
The Senate plan was attached to a bill previously passed by the House, so it will now go back to the House, where the options will be to agree with the Senate action or send the bill to a conference committee to attempt to work out an agreement.
What else is happening?
- Legislation to bring back Mississippi’s ballot initiative has been tweaked after arriving in the House. The House voted to lower the number of required signatures, which has been a point of contention. The Senate-passed version would require about 240,000 signatures to place a proposed law on the ballot. The House amendment changed that to about 106,000, reflecting the same calculation that had been in the Constitutional provision that was invalidated by the state Supreme Court. (It was invalidated for reasons other than this calculation.) This will now head back to the Senate, where they will agree with the House changes or send it to conference committee to work out differences.
- House-passed legislation to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips, which could be used to prevent drug overdoses and deaths, is on its way to the Governor after clearing the Senate.
- A bill to provide charter school teachers with teacher supply debit cards, which are already available to other public school teachers, is also on its way to the Governor. It passed the Senate on Wednesday.
- After Governor Tate Reeves did an about-face on expanding Medicaid to cover postpartum mothers, the House passed a bill previously approved by the Senate to do just that.