Schools Could See Significant Increase in Funding Due to Dispute Over Funding Formula

A dispute is emerging in the Mississippi Legislature regarding education funding.

A friendly competition may arise between the House and Senate regarding which chamber will pledge more funds for education. This potential development would be well received by educators, who, like many others, have been facing challenges due to inflation and rising school expenses.

The House proposes modifications to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), an objective formula that determines the state funds necessary for operating a sufficient school district. While the House plan includes elements endorsed by education advocates, some are worried that it lacks an objective formula, relying instead on a committee of education experts to advise the Legislature on funding requirements.

The House has approved a budget bill to allocate an extra $250 million to K-12 education – a move possibly intended to garner support for the proposed MAEP modifications.

The Senate seeks alterations to the Adequate Education Program while preserving the objective formula. With the Senate’s proposed revisions to MAEP, an additional $210 million above the 2023 Legislature’s appropriations would be required for full formula funding, a commitment the Senate leaders have made.

If MAEP receives full funding this session, it would mark the first time since 2007 and just the second time since its full implementation in 2003.

In the worst-case scenario, K-12 education could see an additional $210 million under the Senate’s preliminary plan. Notably, the Senate has yet to address its education budget like the House has, leaving room for further adjustments to MAEP funding.

Conversely, a potential scenario could see harsh outcomes for education should the House leadership refuse to allocate additional funds if the Senate does not agree to discard the prevailing school funding formula.

The history of the House and Senate competing for education funding dates back years. A notable instance occurred in 2000 when Gov. Ronnie Musgrove pushed for raising teacher salaries to the Southeastern average despite initial resistance from legislative leaders.

During that period, state revenue was strained due to a national recession, making such financial commitments challenging.

Unlike the financial constraints in 2000, present fiscal conditions in Mississippi are comparatively stronger, largely due to substantial federal aid received amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

Although state revenue growth has slowed in recent months, lawmakers remain determined to enhance education funding, potentially engaging in a friendly rivalry to surpass each other’s pledges.

Yet, there are challenges ahead, such as the probable need for additional funds to bolster the Public Employees Retirement System, impacting the allocation of resources for education.

There have been projections indicating an annual requirement of $350 million for PERS, potentially complicating efforts to bolster education funding.

Furthermore, if Gov. Tate Reeves succeeds in eliminating the income tax, a significant portion of state general fund revenue, the task of increasing education funding could become substantially more demanding.

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