OUR OPINION: Schools’ funding remains far short of the mandate

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi public schools’ chief statewide funding mechanism, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, is described as holding at level funding for budget year 2014 under proposals alive in the House and Senate, but money will fall short of full formula funding by $300.5 million under either bill.
Level funding, under narrow scenarios, could be seen as encouraging, but the Legislature has generally failed to fully fund MAEP except for two years since its full enactment in 2002, surely diminishing what could have been its full impact during those years.
On Wednesday, the House passed HB 1648, its level funding bill, which increases spending by $28 million for K-12, mostly for retirement costs.
The Senate bill, not yet passed, notably contains $8 million in funding for the start of a phased-in statewide pre-K education program, far from enough for a full statewide program but enough to begin what’s hoped will become the model for enactment in every district.
The impact on MAEP as the situation has evolved is not encouraging but not without hope, some legislators say.
The MAEP formula produces a base student cost, the amount that is required to provide each student an adequate education in a Mississippi school. Each district is required to provide up to 27 percent of the base student cost through a local contribution made up of local ad valorem taxes. The state funds the difference between what a local community is able to provide (up to a maximum of 27 percent) and the total base student cost.
MAEP provides, under law:
• Teacher and other district employees’ salaries, retirement and insurance
• Textbooks and other instructional materials
The MAEP formula does not include funding, for example, for administrators’ salaries, often a hot topic for criticism ensnarling MAEP.
The truth is, when all state taxes and fees are considered, K-12 education makes up about 23 percent of the state’s budget, much lower than the often-reported 60 percent. When federal funds are rolled into the mix, K-12 education makes up about 6.5 percent of the state budget.
The MAEP was designed to erase long-standing, earlier inequities by ensuring children in every region of Mississippi an adequate, or successful, education. A $300 million shortfall in funding to the formula is far off the mark of what MAEP’s framers sought and what school districts need.