January 10, 2017 10:12:04 AM
JACKSON -- Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he expects a consulting firm to submit its recommendations for changing Mississippi's education funding formula in about a week or so.
The Republican said lawmakers still plan to rewrite the formula during the current legislative session. Some people have warned there may not be enough time to properly vet changes, but Reeves painted those favoring delay as Democratic obstructionists.
"They've decided they're against it no matter what the bill is going to say," Reeves said at a luncheon sponsored by the Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.
New Jersey-based EdBuild, hired by legislative leaders, was supposed to submit proposals before the session started. The deadline to introduce bills is Jan. 16, meaning lawmakers may have to introduce a placeholder bill and change it later. Such a move would reduce the amount of time for debate. The changes could increase funding for some of Mississippi's 141 school districts, but decrease it for others, unless lawmakers increase overall funding.
Republican leaders have said they support a formula that provides more funding per student based on individual needs, such as more money for special education if a student has a disability.
Reeves said he favors spending more on public schools, but said it's "intellectually dishonest" to expect Mississippi, with low levels of wealth and income, to spend as much as other states.
Lawmakers have fully funded the current formula only twice since it was put into law in 1997. From 2009 through the current budget year, funding has fallen $1.9 billion short.
When the formula was originally written and when it was re-examined under Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, proposals were developed through a much slower process with more public debate. Reeves, though, lauded the input given to EdBuild through a series of private meetings arranged by Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton.
"They met with school business finance officers," he said. "They met with teachers. They met with superintendents from all across the state."
EdBuild representatives also have received written comments and appeared for one 90-minute public hearing.
Reeves and other Republican leaders have said repeatedly that they want a formula that cuts spending on principals, assistant principals and central office administrators in favor of spending on teachers and the classroom. Monday, he offered no specific proposals on how to achieve that.
"It's obviously always a balance one must strike in order to ensure that local control is maintained," Reeves said.
EdBuild has said it favors allowing districts to spend state aid as they choose, mirroring the current setup.