Full Funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program

Full Funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program

An editorial in the September 29, 2008 edition of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide newspaper, noted the following:

The same old story may be playing out with the Legislature as budget hearings are under way: Education needing more money, lawmakers poor mouthing, saying it’s too much.

…. Even if the department gets what’s asked, Mississippi will spend about $1,500 less per child than Alabama. Mississippi also will spend less per child than Louisiana by more than $1,500.

The refrain of “throwing money at” education can already be heard. But it’s not money that’s been thrown, but money that lawmakers have promised or need to throw that is the issue.

…. [i]f Mississippi cannot find a way to stop the hemorrhaging of young people, with one of the highest dropout rates in the nation, the future of this state is grim.

Approximately 10,000 students drop out of Mississippi’s schools annually. It’s estimated that dropouts cost the state a staggering $458 million a year in lost revenue and public assistance and incarceration costs. These costs, in monetary and human terms are simply too high for public officials to look the other way.

Finding and applying strategies to keep kids in school is an investment in the state’s future, and saves money.

Mississippi also has a shortage of 2,113 teachers, with problems in recruitment and retention, stemming from lagging pay. In 2000, lawmakers sought to raise teachers’ pay to the Southeastern average, with an incremental plan through 2005. But they have failed to keep up.

…. Education must be the priority.

The MS Adequate Education Program (MAEP) establishes a funding formula intended and designed to provide a sufficient level of funding to enable local school districts to achieve at least a modestly successful standard of performance and process.  At the same time the State has instituted accountability standards based on growth and improvement that must be achieved each year in each school.  If a school fails to meet these standards severe sanctions can result for students, teachers, administrators, superintendents and school board members.  Therefore, fully funding of MAEP is necessary to ensure that schools can meet their duties under state law.

The State Legislature adopted MAEP in 1997 as a statutory formula to determine how much state funding each school district each year shall receive.  There are also several categorical programs that must be funded each year that are not included within the MAEP formula.  Each year the Mississippi Department of Education presents to the State Legislature its analysis of what the statutory formula requires.  This is often characterized as a “request” from the MDE, but it is not a wish list emanating from the Department.  To the contrary, the analysis represents what the MAEP formula requires under the existing law as adopted by the State Legislature.  That is the law, and that is the duty of the State – to follow the formula as set forth in the law.

The full funding formula of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is not a pie-in-the-sky luxury framework.  It was adopted after careful deliberation by the State Legislature.  The nationally-recognized experts retained by the State to assist in the construction of the MAEP formula acknowledged that when fully funded the formula does not provide all that local school districts need to provide the quality of education that children need.  Rather, the formula is based on what a moderately successful Mississippi school appears to need when certain specific criteria are addressed.  Some criteria were not addressed in the construction of the formula on the basis of need, but as a political compromise:  such as the gross under-funding for children-at-risk, children with special needs, and new school buildings, other capital improvements and facilities.

If the State Legislature fails to fully fund MAEP, then many negative, even dire, consequences will result at the local school district level:

  • In order to save teaching positions and programs, local school districts and county board of supervisors will have to face the specter of raising local taxes or losing the teachers and programs;
  • The truth is that many local school and counties will not be able to raise either through local taxation, grants or donations the amounts of money needed to cover the shortfall that will result from a failure of the State to fully fund MAEP;
  • When local school districts dip into the reserves they have built through sound conventional business practices, they are depleting the funds that are supposed to be available for capital improvements, maintenance and expansion, or that may be needed for unanticipated crises that result from weather, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, or from rapidly rising costs of transportation that result from sharp spikes in the cost of gas and oil, or from unusual severe cold or heat that cause sharp spikes in the cost of heating and cooling their buildings; and last, but not least;
  • When local school districts are forced to cut teachers and thereby increase class sizes, and cut essential programs, it will force many school districts into non-compliance with state accountability standards regarding curriculum, programs, support systems and student performance.

The research-based evidence is that there is a direct correlation between the availability of education resources and student performance on standardized tests.  Money, and other key resources, matter.

  • Students tend to perform better on standardized tests and are better prepared for college when their schools have more funds per pupil to spend on educating students.  Schools that have fewer resources tend to have lower achieving students than schools with more resources.
  • Students tend to perform better on standardized tests and are better prepared for college when their classes are taught by qualified teachers licensed to teach the subject area in which they are teaching.
  • Students that have more unqualified teachers tend to have lower achievement on standardized tests than students with fewer unqualified teachers.
  • Black children generally are disproportionately represented among the students in poverty that attend public schools, their families have higher unemployment and less educational background, and these children are disproportionately represented among lower and lowest achieving students and under-represented among high and higher achieving students.  This is a consequence of the history of 2nd class segregated public education that was enforced for too long as a matter of state and local policy, and, if for no other reason, the state has a primary responsibility to remedy the conditions it had been so committed to create and enforce.

Full funding for public education is not an ordinary priority.  It is of the highest priority because it affects every other aspect of our society.  Quality education accessible to all children regardless of race, class, status, special need or location of residence is the keystone central to the foundation of a healthy and just society.  Failure to provide sufficient funding for public education is the wrong path because it undermines everything else that we are trying to accomplish as a healthy and just society.

Effective education requires sufficient funding.  Sufficient funding requires understanding and commitment that undergirds the political will to set priorities consistent with the degree of need.  Government, whether federal, state or local, is charged with the responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people.  The quality of public education affects public health, community safety, and the capacity of individuals and families to cope with the burdens and stresses of an evolving 21st century culture.