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Officials: Revisit school funding plan

As a new school year begins, Brookhaven and Lincoln Countyeducation leaders are keeping an eye on legislative efforts thatcould change the way schools are funded by the state.

A group of lawmakers and school officials from around the statemet last month to consider changes in the funding formula under theMississippi Adequate Education Program. Recommendations areexpected to be developed and made in time for the 2006 Legislativesession.

In general, Brookhaven School District Superintendent LeaBarrett and Lincoln County School District Superintendent TerryBrister expressed support for possible changes. However, they didhave some reservations.

“There are some things that need to be revised,” Barrettsaid.

First, Barrett said the formula is outdated in some respects.Following several years in development, MAEP was implemented inphases beginning in 1997.

“It is certainly time to review it and make revisions,” Barrettsaid.

Barrett said the current MAEP formula looks at funding based ona district’s performance level. Under new evaluation measures, shesaid, performance levels are now determined at the schoollevel.

“It’s not done by district. It’s done by school,” Barrettsaid.

Barrett said the recommendations should be about what is “fair,right and reasonable” and not about politics.

Brister expressed similar concerns regarding possible fundingchanges. In developing the recommendations, he said he hopes theyare fairly done and are not politically motivated or designed toaid certain sections of the state.

“It wasn’t set up for the rich school districts. It was set upfor districts that didn’t have money,” Brister said. “I want tokeep it that way.”

MAEP currently involves a complicated formula designed to assistschool districts in meeting Level Three, or adequate, standards.Alluding to other states’ court decisions in education fundinglawsuits, Barrett supported continuation of a plan that wouldassign a dollar figure per student in the effort to achieve theintended goal.

“I think that concept is still very valid,” Barrett said.

Barrett said it would be “unconscionable ” to not want everystudent in every district to have a level playing field ineducation.

Barrett said she hopes the current MAEP discussion results in amore accurate formula for funding. She would like to see the MAEPstudy panel look at districts with good ACT scores and at districtsthat have Level Three and Level Four schools.

However, citing the years in development for the current MAEPformula, Barrett acknowledged the difficult task that lies ahead insuggesting changes. She said there are “no magic answers” for afunding formula.

“When you talking about an adequate education, you’re talkingabout a lot of different factors,” Barrett said.