By BOBBY HARRISON
A vast majority of citizens speaking at a public hearing Thursday on the possible revamp of the funding formula that provides state funds to local school districts said the issue is not the formula, but is legislators not properly funding the formula.
They also questioned what they said was “the secrecy” by the legislative leadership in efforts to rewrite the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
“There is no need to spend time and money” on a new formula, said Lauren Stubblefield of Utica, a public school parent. “The answer to education’s problem is not vouchers, not school choice. The answer is for the Legislature to do its lawful job and fund the formula.”
She said the formula should be fully funded for seven or eight years and then re-evaluated. MAEP has been fully funded only twice since it was fully enacted in 2003 and has been underfunded about $1.8 million since 2008.
House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves announced in early October they had hired New Jersey-based EdBuild, a non profit education consulting group, to work on a possible rewrite of the formula to be considered during the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.
Gunn and Reeves said the Adequate Education Program was outdated and allowed school districts to spend too much on costs outside of the classroom.
When announcing the possible rewrite, they said public input would be sought. About 125 people crammed into the House committee room at the state Capitol Thursday, starting at 4 p.m. for the public hearing that lasted about 75 minutes. It was scheduled for one hour. Even with the extra time, some people were denied the opportunity to speak. About 20 spoke during the hearing.
Various speakers said more public hearings should be hosted in other parts of the state at a time when more citizens could participate and with more notice. Thursday’s hearing was not announced until Monday.
Various speakers also complained that the legislative leadership has refused to release the contract signed with EdBuild.
Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, who has said the contract should be made public, said he had read the document, as the legislative rules allow any member to do. After reading the document, he said he does not understand the reason for not releasing it.
Some speakers – primarily parents – said the secrecy surrounding the contract, the lack of more accommodating public hearings and the fact the Legislature has a history of not funding the formula, were leading them to distrust the process.
The meeting was presided over by Sen. President Pro Tem Terry Burton, R-Newton, and House Rules Committee Chair Jason White, R-West. Officials with EdBuild also attended. Reeves and Gunn, who initiated the process, did not attend the meeting. Rep, John Moore, R-Brandon, and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, the chairs of their respective chamber’s Education Committee, also did not attend.
Many of the speakers provided written comments that any legislator can read. And people who cannot offer comments at a public meeting can e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When asked if additional public hearings will be hosted, Burton said it would depend on whether EdBuild, which is being paid $125,000 by the state, can attend any more.
Rebecca Sibilia, the chief executive officer of EdBuild, put the responsibility of any additional hearings on the legislative leadership.
“We will be here for any public meetings,” she said after Thursday’s hearing.
At Thursday’s hearing, Sibilia heard teachers and former teachers complain about the condition of school buildings and lack of resources. She was urged to visit schools throughout the state. After the meeting, Sibilia said she already had made some visits and would make others.
Others said any changes to the formula should result in more state funds going to public education – not less.
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