Less required for MAEP, but full funding unlikely

Education stockBy Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Even though it appears the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula will generate less funds per student for the first time ever next year, it still is not likely to be fully funded during the 2014 legislative session.

Neither Gov. Phil Bryant, who campaigned for lieutenant governor in 2007 on the promise that fully funding the program would never been an issue again, nor current Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves would commit to full funding.

Mick Bullock, a spokeswoman for Bryant, simply said, “The governor’s budget priorities will be listed in the EBR (executive budget recommendation) when he presents it to the Legislature in November.”

And Laura Hipp, a spokesman for Reeves, said, “Funding for public education has grown $83.1 million since Lieutenant Governor Reeves took office less than two years ago. He supports strengthening education programs that have proven successful.”

The Adequate Education Program was passed by the 1997 Legislature as the primary mechanism for providing state funds to local school districts for basic operations. The formula works by the state Department of Education identifying “adequate” – or successful – districts and determining how much they spend for school operations – the instructional, administrative, maintenance and ancillary costs.

Those adequate performing districts with deviations, such as spending significantly more or less than other school systems, are not used by the state Department of Education in developing the formula.
Based on the expenditures in those districts, an average cost per student is developed. Local school districts statewide are supposed to receive that average cost per student multiplied by their average daily attendance.

While all school districts are mandated to contribute a portion of that cost per student via local property tax revenue, the poorer the school district, the less it is responsible for providing.

Because of an unprecedented drop in state revenue collections in 2009-2010, the Adequate Education Program has been underfunded nearly $1.3 billion since the 2007-08 school year.

In simple terms, because less state funding has been going to public education than the formula calls for, local school districts have spent less money, meaning the MAEP formula generates less per student when it is recalculated every four years as is required by state law.

Todd Ivey, bureau manager of Policy and Financial Services within the state Department of Education, said preliminary figures recently compiled indicate that the formula will generate $2.35 billion for local school districts for the school year beginning in 2014 – or $28.5 million less than it generated for the upcoming 2013 school year.

Based on the preliminary estimates, the base cost per student will drop for the first time in the history of the program. For the upcoming school year, the base cost per student at full funding would have been $5,103.99. For the 2014-15 school year, preliminary estimates are of a base cost per student of $5,054.97.

Ivey said the estimate is preliminary and will change before the 2014 Legislature meets to act on the Adequate Education Program funding request.

“There is a 100 percent possibility it will change,” said Ivey, explaining he will not have actual school expenditures for the past year until near October and those actual numbers will have to be plugged in to the recalculation. But the state Board of Education is required to submit a preliminary budget request to legislative leaders in August.

Ivey surmised the formula would have produced less money per student except for the fact local school districts have raised property taxes to generate funds to offset the cut in state appropriations. Local expenditures also are factored into the formula.

The program has been fully funded only twice since its inception – in the 2003 and 2007 legislative sessions. In 2007, politicians, including Bryant, ran for election on the promise that fully funding education would no longer be an issue. But in late 2008, the economic downturn occurred, resulting in a dramatic slump in state revenue and cuts in education and other state agencies.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the program can be fully funded if the legislative leadership will make that commitment.

“We have had a decade of intentionally cutting funding to education – not because of economic reasons, but because of policy reasons even though it is the law that it shall be fully funded each year,” he said.

When asked about striving for full funding, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said, “What is full funding? I get so frustrated with that term – so subjective … If it takes less to do it, obviously we have a better shot.”

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com