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House plan: Little change in aid to schools in next 2 years

 

Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

 

 

JACKSON -- There would be little change in state aid to Mississippi public school districts in the next two years under a new funding formula being pushed by House Republican leaders. 

 

The House Appropriations Committee moved House Bill 957 forward Tuesday on a divided voice vote, setting up for a vote by the full House as soon as today. 

 

House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett emphasized again in Tuesday's meeting that districts would be protected from losses in the first two years of a projected seven-year phase in. 

 

"No one will get less in '19 and '20 than this year," said Bennett, a Long Beach Republican. 

 

Nathan Wells, chief of staff for House Speaker Philip Gunn, said districts gaining enrollment would get only a little more money under a method not yet been disclosed. Wells said the increase would be less than $10 million next year over the $2.27 billion the state projects to spend on the current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. 

 

That defers the promise of what would be $107 million over time, and $53 million more in the first year that the new formula begins to operate. There are already questions about where the Legislature would get the additional money. Bennett on Tuesday appeared to assure Rep. Jerry Turner, a Baldwyn Republican, that the additional money wouldn't come out of a pot that's used to fund career and technical education outside the current formula. But Wells said after the hearing that some money could still come from that $97 million pot. 

 

House Minority Leader David Baria, a Bay St. Louis Democrat, offered an amendment in the committee hearing to postpone any change for two years. Baria said that would give time for five separate studies ordered by the bill on various aspects of funding to be completed. Bennett, though, urged the committee to move ahead, pledging lawmakers could revisit those issues during the period in which funding would change little. 

 

"Any adjustment that needs to be made will be made while they're still in the two-year period," Bennett said. 

 

The new formula would provide a base student cost of $4,800, allocated to educate a student with no special requirements. It would then add extra per-student amounts for special education students, gifted students, high school students and those learning English. Extremely rural districts get an extra bump. 

 

The proposal would spend $157 million less than the Mississippi Adequate Education Program legally mandates for next year. 

 

A total of 24 school districts projects to lose money, while 118 are projected to gain.

 

 

 

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