On deadline day, both the House and the Senate passed their respective versions of "dummy" education funding formula bills out of committee that bring up code sections regarding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The bills mark both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves' commitment to at least looking at some of EdBuild's education funding recommendations, which were released two weeks ago in an 80-page report.
EdBuild's main recommendation is for the state to transition to a weighted student formula, which would work in a very different way than MAEP does now. Weights are attached to certain characteristics of students like special education, English language learners or "low-income" students to name a few. Weighted formulas give money based on those weights and the student populations they affect, so in theory, the district with the highest number of highest weighted student populations could have the most to gain--or not. How much weight each of those and other measures will get in the Legislature's proposed new formula is still unclear, and experts say that the weights are the political part of any weighted formula.
The dummy bills that came out of both committees today give no indications of what sort of weights the top lawmakers are considering or what total dollar amount lawmakers are working with to determine funding for the new formula or fiscal-year 2018, which begins July 1.
It's possible that specifics on any plans to re-vamp the formula won't be out until conference committee time, right before session ends. It's also possible that lawmakers will only address certain parts of EdBuild's recommendations. Both Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, mentioned the transparency measures from EdBuild's report, which would require school districts to track and report how they spend their funds in new ways.
There are a lot of questions up in the air, and the answers are few and far between. What's for certain is that the formula is certainly still up for debate and potential changes this session, but to what extent changes will be made depends on top lawmakers' decisions in the next 60 days.