Funding the Formula

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Ja’Kiya Scott is a 9th grader at Forest Hill High School in Jackson. The 14-year-old spent part of Monday afternoon going through an ACT prep book. She was practicing for the test instead of doing homework because a textbook wasn’t available to take home.

“I had to get a dismissal because I was sick and I went to one of my classes, and I asked for my work because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get my work. Well, he said, “You know we only have the schoolbooks that are in the school.” So I don’t have a book to take home with me,” Ja’Kiya says. “I have to wait until the next day to catch up on two assignments instead of the one assignment that I could have done at home.”

Ja’Kiya say it’s just one of the challenges she faces on a daily basis. She is an at-risk student, a designation for students who get free lunches.

They’re also often students at risk of failing or dropping out of school. But Ja’Kiya is a good student. She’s taking accelerated classes and considered gifted. Still, she and her mother, Lora Williams, want more opportunities.

Lora says, “In the 9th grade, they were doing the MacBooks for the children. This year she’s in 9th grade. They don’t have the funding this year to give the kids the MacBooks.”

Without a computer at home, Ja’Kiya relies on the school library. But even that is a problem; she says, “Most of the time, the library isn’t open. Like today the library wasn’t open.”

Dr. Tim Martin is Assistant Superintendent for Clinton Public Schools. He says an increase in at-risk funding is needed, “Districts like Clinton and Madison and Rankin County, students have many more opportunities that are not afforded them in other places, so more money is needed in those districts to give those students opportunities that students elsewhere receive.”

And he’d love to see more money for students in other categories too.

“There’s a lot of work to take place but we went to the meeting this past week and as far as the ad-ons for gifted students, for special ed students, for students that English is not their first language, having additional monies for those students is exciting. Right now, those students are outside the formula, and they’re not funded.”

And that’s one thing that EdBuild could propose to lawmakers. The non-profit company was hired last month by the state to reevaluate the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, which was created 20 years ago. EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia talked to legislators last week. The meeting was preliminary, and no decisions have been made yet. But Sibilia hopes to have suggestions to lawmakers by the end of the year.

Nancy Loome at the Parents Campaign is interested in how EdBuild will calculate base student cost. MAEP funding is currently calculated by multiplying average daily attendance by student cost. Student cost includes instruction, administration, maintenance and ancillary positions like librarians and counselors. Then you add the at-risk component, which is 5 percent of the student cost multiplied by the number of free lunches on October 31st of a given year. After that, you subtract the local contributions to the school district and add 8 percent of guaranteed funding. When you add in money for add-on programs like transportation and special education, you get the full amount of funding for a district.

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According to Loome, “What matters is the amount of resources that are going to schools, and we know that in Mississippi, despite having more challenges than any other state due to poverty and under-education, our students get less funding than their peers in other states.”

The latest school funding data we found is from the 2014 census. It shows that, in Mississippi, $8,263 was allocated for each student. Of that, $4,628 went towards instruction; $265 went to general administration, and $495 went to school administration. Compare that to neighboring states, where Alabama designates $9,028 per student and Louisiana designates $10,749.

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Representative John Moore (R-District 60) is Chairman of the House Education Committee. He reflected on Sibilia’s presentation to the joint committee, “One thing I liked about her presentation was that it’s more student-centered funding. You base the funding on the student’s needs, the individual students.”

Moore says MAEP has been updated over the years, but there are flaws that haven’t been fixed, “It seemed to be guiding more money into administration than into the classroom which is a big red flag that the formula is taking us in the wrong direction.”

Moore says that some school districts need more guidance on where to use the money. Dr. Martin calls legislative intervention a slippery slope. He believes Clinton does a good job managing their own money, saying, “You know, not top heavy as far as administration is concerned at the building level or at central office because we know that the difference is made when money is in the classroom.”

WJTV looked into how much administrators in the metro made in 2016. Recently resigned JPS Superintendent Dr. Cedrick Gray made the most at $205,000. The Yazoo County Superintendent made the least at more than $117,000. Other districts fell somewhere in the middle.

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We wanted to compare that to poverty levels in the Metro. According to stats from EdBuild, JPS has about 32,000 students and had the highest poverty rate at 46.5%. Madison County had the lowest at 12% and 15,000 students.

To put that into perspective, 2016 information from the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluations show the federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $24,300.

“This is a very, very important piece of legislation that will be coming forward.” Loome says, “One of the most important and impactful on our students and educators.”

Loome hopes that lawmakers take their time, and don’t fast track this legislation without examining it fully. She also notes that no formula works if it’s not fully funded. Dr. Martin agrees, “The biggest difference, whatever the formula ends up being, fund the formula.”

He says Clinton Public Schools was underfunded about 2 million dollars in 2015-2016. He went on to say, “And although we’re blessed in Clinton to have a strong local tax base that makes up the difference, what we could have done with $2 million for children is tremendous.”

Representative Moore says the legislature has gotten a bad rap for not fully funding MAEP, but says other money was flowing to schools. For instance, outside of the formula, 22 million is allocated for national certified teachers and 15 million for reading coaches. He says he doesn’t know if the legislature will take up school funding in the next session, saying, “I do know as chairman of the committee I’m not in a position to rush something through.”

So while we wait for changes to school funding, Ja’Kiya will keep studying. She wants to go to Alcorn State University and then to medical school. She says, “I know I’m going to have to be in school for a long, long time. And I’m prepared to do that because you’re never going to get nowhere if you don’t have your mind set on what you want to do.”

To put that into perspective, 2016 information from the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluations show the federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $24,300.

“This is a very,very important piece of legislation that will be coming forward.” Loome says, “One of the most important and impactful on our students and educators.”

Loome hopes that lawmakers take their time, and don’t fast track this legislation without examining it fully. She also notes that no formula works if it’s not fully funded. Dr. Martin agrees, “The biggest difference, whatever the formula ends up being, fund the formula.”

He says Clinton Public Schools was underfunded about 2 million dollars in 2015-2016. He went on to say, “And although we’re blessed in Clinton to have a strong local tax base that makes up the difference, what we could have done with $2 million for children is tremendous.”

Representative Moore says the legislature has gotten a bad rap for not fully funding MAEP, buts says other money was flowing to schools. For instance, outside of the formula, 22 million is allocated for national certified teachers and 15 million for reading coaches. He says he doesn’t know if the legislature will take up school funding in the next session, saying, “I do know as chairman of the committee I’m not in a position to rush something through.”

So while we wait for changes to school funding, Ja’Kiya will keep studying. She wants to go to Alcorn State University and then to medical school. She says, “I know I’m going to have to be in school for a long, long time. And I’m prepared to do that because you’re never going to get nowhere if you don’t have your mind set on what you want to do.”

 

 

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