Proposed funding formula would hurt H'burg schools

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Hattiesburg would have to find ways to cut costs if an education funding formula presented to the Legislature by an independent consultant becomes law.

However, the proposal from EdBuild – which visited local schools last year, including Oak Grove Primary School – would require an extra $107 million over last year’s allocation from the state.

The proposed funding would be $157 million less than the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is recommending for next year. However, the Legislature has fully funded MAEP only twice in 20 years.

Hattiesburg Public School District’s total amount of funding it would receive after a multiyear phase-in under current scenarios would be $18,524,947. That amount would go down $97 per student.

Hattiesburg Superintendent Dr. Robert Williams said any budget changes would be considered.

“Hattiesburg Public School District is currently reviewing the preliminary figures and its potential impact on our school district,” he said in a prepared statement. “In the event funding is reduced, we will make the appropriate adjustments to stay within our budget.”

Other figures for local districts include: Petal – $20,596,750 funding after a multi-year phase-in under current scenarios, with an increase of $440 per student; Lamar County – $47,805,255 funding with $306 increase per student; Forrest County – $10,739,801 funding with $27 increase per student, and Lumberton – $2,969,642 funding with $267 decrease per student.

The figures presented last week by nonprofit group EdBuild generally follow the outlines of its proposal from last year. The plan starts with a base student cost, then adds extra per-student amounts proposed for special education students, gifted students, high school students and those learning English. Extremely rural districts also would get an extra increase.

Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said the increase in funding would be beneficial.

“I was able to look at our student numbers (the breakdowns) and I have some questions,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get our questions answered as we move forward. Our local legislators have listened to us and are working toward more money for us.”

Smith said she also appreciated having a better idea of budget numbers.

“Everyone has to budget, but in most situations you have an idea of what is coming in annually,” she said. “At home you know your income. In business you track your expenses versus your sales. We work blind until the last minute. So, having a formula that we understand and apply in our district that could give us a target would be something that we have never had.”

Of the state's 142 conventional school districts, 75 percent would get more money than today, while 25 percent would lose money. The biggest losers, on a per-student basis, would be the Montgomery County, Moss Point and West Bolivar school districts. The biggest gainers per student would be Claiborne County, Humphreys County and Benton County, all aided by the 10 percent proposed bump to rural districts. Mississippi's largest district, DeSoto County, would be the largest overall gainer and among the top per-capita gainers.

Among winners, 17 districts would get so much more state aid that they would exceed the amount required to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program this year.

Republican legislative leaders hired EdBuild after voters rejected enshrining a mandate for higher funding in the state constitution in 2015. They say they want a new formula that links money more explicitly to the needs of each student. A new formula could also end the annual exercise of computing the shortfall, because there might not be any way of computing how much money is required besides what lawmakers say.

Associated Press Business Writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.