- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An education consultant says Mississippi should change the base student cost in its school funding formula.

Rebecca Sibilia is chief executive officer of EdBuild, a New Jersey company that Mississippi legislative leaders hired to suggest changes. She held her first meeting with members of the House and Senate education committees Thursday in Jackson

“It is certainly important to have a formula that is funded to provide the resources for students to achieve based on their unique needs,” Sibilia told them, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/2e4E45j ).

EdBuild could make recommendations before the legislative session starts in January. Any changes would have to be approved by a majority of the House and Senate.

The current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, is designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It was put into law in 1997 and phased in over several years but has been fully funded only twice.

Sibilia said the base student cost in Mississippi is higher than in most other Southeastern states. But Mississippi school districts don’t receive additional money - a “multiplier” - for students who generally cost more to educate, such as special needs children.

“We believe one of the benefits of a student-based formula is that funding is flexible and allows for innovation,” Sibilia said.

Mississippi already gives districts an extra share of money for students who receive reduced and free lunch or are economically disadvantaged, but Sibilia said more multipliers should be considered, The Clarion-Ledger reported (https://on.thec-l.com/2eZtE4s ).

Sibilia suggested the possibility that the amount allocated for poor students should be higher.

“Not only do lower-income communities need more help from the state, but students in those communities need more money from the state,” she said. The current reliance on property taxes to aid in education funding puts poorer districts at disadvantage, she said.

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson asked during the meeting: “Is a formula any good if it’s not funded?”

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who is not on the Education Committee but attended Thursday’s meeting, expressed renewed concerns that the eventual outcome of any rewrite of MAEP will be less state money going to local school districts.

There was talk during the meeting of requiring districts to provide a greater share of the base student costs.

“Any school district concerned about local contributions should be terrified,” said Bryan, the primary author of the MAEP legislation.

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