Despite a large drop in enrollment (23,000 fewer students compared to last year), the Mississippi Department of Education is seeking only a fractionally smaller appropriation from lawmakers that it requested this year.
MDE’s general fund budget request of $2.549 billion for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (which provides most of the funding for school districts statewide) is calculated using the MAEP formula. The formula is designed to increase nearly every year, if enrollment remains constant.
The MAEP amount only slightly decreased (0.22 percent from $2.554 billion) despite the state’s public schools losing 5.26 percent of student compared to last year’s enrollment numbers.
State Superintendent Carey Wright told the state Senate Appropriations subcommittee that she believes that most of these children (35,000 of them are now in a home school program) will return once the risk of COVID-19 recedes.
Enrollment in Mississippi public schools reached a peak in 2005, when there were more than 494,000 students enrolled. Enrollment has decreased every year since 2014, when there were more than 492,000 enrolled. Now more than 442,000 are enrolled after more than 465,000 were in public schools the year before.
The difference between what the Legislature appropriates and what the MAEP calls for is considerable.
Both budget outlines by Gov. Tate Reeves and Legislature would appropriate several hundred million less than that. The Legislature would appropriate $2.226 billion in general fund dollars for MAEP, while the governor’s budget recommendation is $2.266 billion or a $40 million difference.
The difference between the MAEP and actual appropriations in fiscal 2021, which ends June 30, is about $328 million. The MAEP formula has only been funded twice and likely won’t be fully funded again now that legal arguments over the formula have been conclusively settled by the state’s highest court.
According to the state Supreme Court decision issued in 2017, the court unanimously ruled that the Legislature wasn’t bound by the MAEP formula.
The MAEP formula consists of average daily attendance times base student cost, plus at-risk component minus local contribution plus 8-percent guarantee. Then, only after add-on programs — transportation, special education, gifted education, vocational and alternative education — are added to the formula allocation is the final MAEP funding request calculated.
MAEP is only one part of what the state's K-12 schools receive. The Educational Enhancement Fund, which is funded by sales tax transfers, is one of several special funds that will add up to more than $504 million this fiscal year. Federal funds (more than $832 million) and other uncategorized funds ($65 million) complete the $3.631 billion that will be spent for K-12 education this year.
In addition to MAEP funds, the MDE is asking for $8.9 million to modernize the Mississippi Student Information System, an increase of $5.5 million over what was spent in fiscal 2021, which ends June 30.
“I’m very concerned with our information system, which is well over 20 years old, is not able to do the kinds of things you wanted it to do,” Wright said. “We need greater access in our information system and I’m asking that you give serious thought to this. This is critical for our needs.”
The MDE also wants an extra $10.8 million for pre-Kindergarten collaboratives.