The source of state funding for Mississippi school districts is the controversial Mississippi Adequate Education program (MAEP). The complicated base formula consists of: (Average Daily Attendance + High Growth) x (Base Student Cost + At-Risk Allowance) – Local Contribution + Hold Harmless Guarantee.
Areas of concern include the fact that there is no consideration for the demographics and learning needs of students enrolled, there is no adequacy test, there is little incentive to spend efficiently, there is no consideration of the ability of the state to pay, the program continually ties education spending to swings in the economy, and the base is currently recalculated every four years based on C graded schools spending within one standard deviation of the mean.
Since 2002, MAEP has been underfunded by $1.63 billion. U.S. Department of Education data shows the state spends $33,000 less than national average over the course of a public school student’s education
Mississippi’s state government covers the majority of funds for education. Whereas local districts pay only 35% of the tab in the Magnolia State, districts nationwide average bear 45% of the cost burden. This is in part because of the 27% rule, which diverts roughly $120 million within the formula to mostly high wealth districts.
No other state in the country guarantees such a high proportion of funding for schools without the power to levy a state collected property tax. Mississippi’s “27% Rule” currently commits the state to funding 73% of each district’s formula amount, a target that far exceeds the national average of state share of 46.7%.
Because the legislature must fund 73%, the formula will always be tied to the state’s ability to cover the cost. The rule also has the effect of allowing districts who have the means to contribute at higher levels to remain below the state average property tax rate.
Recommendations for change include moving to a student-centered formula, aligning funding with the most current research demonstrating strong life-outcomes improvements for low-income students when funded at levels 20% to 25% higher than their better off peers, and targeting funding to students below the poverty line.
Additional funding for English Language Learners and special education students is also suggested, as well as elimination of the “27% Rule.”