Auditor says he can’t approve education program

JACKSON — Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering is calling on lawmakers to write new, stricter rules on computing how much state money goes to local schools.

The Republican told the House Appropriations Committee he can’t approve the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, as required by law, because his office has found unreliable numbers on attendance, students receiving free lunch and other items.

The MAEP formula is based partly on average daily attendance. But Pickering says different districts have different attendance policies, which means schools may get the same amount of money even when students at some schools attend for longer or shorter times than those at other schools.

Pickering says it’s possible some districts are inflating numbers for attendance or free or reduced-price lunches to get more state money.

In a separate item, bills moving forward in the Senate would merge the Clay County and West Point school districts and give agricultural high schools in Coahoma and Hinds counties to the county school boards.

Senate Education Committee chairman Gray Tollison, an Oxford Republican, says Clay County, the smallest district in the state, spends almost $350,000 on administration for fewer than 150 students. The district already contracts to send junior high and high school students to West Point.

The committee also approved a bill to give Coahoma Agricultural High School and Hinds Agricultural High School back to their respective county school districts. Hinds has said it will close the school there.

The move comes a year after lawmakers forced the merger of five Bolivar County districts into two and three Sunflower County districts into one.

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