There’s an old saying that if you can’t bring the mountain to Mohammed, bring Mohammed to the mountain. The Mississippi legislature will apply an understanding of that notion this session when it deals with the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The MAEP mandates funding levels for schools across the state; the legislature has not consistently met those levels because there hasn’t been enough money to do so, and because the state’s leaders lack the political willpower to raise taxes. (In fact, now that the GOP has a supermajority, plans for tax cuts–in a state that hasn’t adequately funded education or infrastructure in decades–are practically a certainty.)
Because the legislature does not want to fund education using the formula it passed in 1997, and because it it politically unpalatable for legislators to look like enemies of education, I predict it will simply change the funding formula in this legislative session. That way, legislators can say, “Look! We funded education fully by the formula! We’re giving schools everything they need!”
Determining what schools really need, of course, is the sticking point. On the one hand, Mississippi passed an historic pay raise for teachers last year; on the other, teacher salaries here are still $14,000 below the national average, and only four states spend less than Mississippi per pupil. Mississippi also has an inordinately large number of chronically underperforming districts. How should they be fixed? How can we know we aren’t throwing good money after bad? How do conversations about race inform the way we think about educational funding?