BOBBY HARRISON

Legislative leaders in their failed effort to rewrite the Mississippi Adequate Education Program school funding formula touted two, conflicting messages.

On the one hand, they argued that the Adequate Education Program needed to be replaced because the state could not afford to provide the amount of money to local school districts that was called for under the school funding formula.

“To fully fund MAEP is impossible if other essential services are to be provided to Mississippians,” wrote House Education Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach.

On the other hand, often in the next breath, Bennett and others contended that their new school funding formula, the Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act, would provide more funds for the local school districts than they received for the current fiscal year or school year.

How could both of those contentions be true?

At this point, the issue might be moot since, in stunning fashion, over the objections of leadership, the Senate voted Thursday to recommit the bill to the Education Committee, killing it for the 2018 session. But it might be useful to understand one distinct difference in the passage of the Adequate Education Program in 1997 and the attempted passage of the Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act this year.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who made the motion to send the new proposal back to committee Thursday, said one of the goals in 1997 when the Adequate Education Program was passed was to ensure no school district would receive less money if it became law. Bryan was one of the authors of the Adequate Education Program.

MAEP provided about $130 million more for the local school districts when it was fully enacted in the 2002-03 school year.

The proposed new funding formula, planned to be enacted over a longer period of time, would have provided about $110 million more for the local school districts in the 2025-2026 fiscal year than they received for the current 2018 fiscal year.

Still, 33 school districts (a little less than one-quarter of the total districts) would have received less funding. Presumably, those districts would have received less money because of declining enrollment, though, that was not made clear in many instances.

At any rate, it is obvious that $130 million bought a lot more in 1997 than $110 million did in 2025.

And, it was clear that the Adequate Education Program, if fully funded, would generate more funds for the local school districts than the new formula. After all, for the current school year, MAEP is $213 million underfunded, yet the new formula would have provided only $110 million more in 2025-26 than an underfunded MAEP did this year.

And a study by the pro-education Parents Campaign revealed that during the past 14 years, an underfunded MAEP had provided districts year over year increases far larger than they were slated to receive between now and 2025-2026 under the new plan.

Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the new formula was superior because it provided “targeted funds” for English as second language learners and for high school students, as well as more funds than MAEP provided for students living in poverty, gifted students and special education students.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, the author of the new proposal said, “We can argue about the dollar amount all day long, but no one can refute that this was a better way to fund education.”

But the bottom line seemed to be that all those targeted dollars did not matter if in the end the check the school districts received was less than what they could have gotten under the Adequate Education Program.

“I could not find anyone who was advising me to support this,” said Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, one of eight Republicans to bulk their leadership in the Senate to vote against the new formula.

Indeed, the Senate leadership had a difficult time making the case that it was best for senators politically to support a formula that, by design, would generate less money for their local school districts than the existing formula.

» BOBBY HARRISON covers the capitol for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal