Lawmakers sorting through EdBuild’s proposal

Published 11:03 am Thursday, January 19, 2017

Now that the New Jersey consulting firm EdBuild has released its 80-page proposal for Mississippi’s education funding, Lincoln County legislators are hard at work going through every recommendation.

Lawmakers received the document earlier this week and are studying it. “We have to go through it diligently to be able to comment on it,” said Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven. Currie said it would be a “slow process.”

Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven, is waiting to see recommendations the appropriations committee will come up with based on EdBuild’s recommendations.

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“I’m in agreement that their recommendations have a lot of moving parts and variables,” he said. “Until we know what amount the state is putting in, and until appropriations comes with their recommendations, it’s all a guessing game. Some points they made were good. We’ll have to wait and see how it all comes together.”

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, said she’ll be going through the report “piece by piece.”

“There are some interesting points about state and local funding that are in the report,” she said. “It doesn’t look like we will be spending less which is what we asked EdBuild to tell us. We wanted to know if our tax dollars were going where we needed them the most. There are a lot of moving pieces to this report and we are a long way from an end result.”

Doty attended EdBuild’s presentation Monday and visited with EdBuild representatives in a small-group setting. “I also was in contact with my school superintendents and board members to get their input as well,” she said.

The report includes a summary of EdBuild’s recommendations, which include:

• An increase in student base funding provided based on enrollment, not attendance, including an increased (and more targeted) supplement for low-income students.

• A student-focused model that funds classroom needs beyond simply a teacher for gifted and special education students.

• Additional funding for English-Language Learners, and for students enrolled in sparsely populated school districts.

• Funding of college and career readiness for all high school students in the state, not just those enrolled in vocational programs.

• Local districts contributing “a fair, 28-mill share of the formula.”

• State resources be provided with equal flexibility to those raised locally.

• More transparency and accountability be built into the overall fiscal environment.

Doty said the firm’s recommendations and school funding formulas are “extremely complicated” because so many factors are considered. “Thus, the EdBuild report will take me a bit of time to digest,” she said. “I did like the focus on student outcomes, as well as greater flexibility but increased transparency that EdBuild recommends.”

She said changes won’t come immediately. “We have a long way to go before making any changes to our funding formula,” she said.

Based on EdBuild’s recommendations, Mississippi’s per-pupil education spending would remain at least the same or could even increase, but more of the cost could be shifted to local taxpayers rather than the state budget.

The per-pupil cost would depend on several variables, including how much would be spent on technology, classroom supplies and professional development for teachers.

Wealthier school districts could be in line to receive less money from the state. But schools could receive more for educating low-income students and those who don’t speak English as their first language.

EdBuild was hired by a Republican legislative leadership in October.

“We believe that a student-centered funding formula should take into consideration that every type of special learning need actually produces a cost for school districts that should be adequately funded in order to make sure that all students are treated fairly,” EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia said after her presentation.

The current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was put into law in 1997 by what was then a Democratic-controlled Legislature over the veto of a Republican governor. The formula is designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It was phased in over several years and has been fully funded only two years, making lawmakers a constant target from critics who say they are not fully committed to schools.

Under MAEP, the state is supposed to spend $4,677 per student, according to the EdBuild report. Under the EdBuild recommendations, the base student cost would range between $4,694 and $5,250.

As with MAEP, full funding would be a year-by-year decision by legislative budget writers.

EdBuild recommends that Mississippi phase in a new school funding formula over five to eight years.

Mississippi currently guarantees at least 73 percent of school funding will come from the state budget, with the balance coming from local districts. Sibilia told lawmakers that the national average is 55 percent from the state, and Mississippi should consider reducing its portion. Doing that would shift more of the school funding burden to local districts, and that could translate into higher property taxes.