Resources play crucial role in school success

Published 3:33 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2007


There are many ingredients that play a role in the success of a school. Certainly, talented and dedicated teachers are at the top of the list. Strong leadership is also a major factor. Good textbooks and other instructional materials are also necessary. Students must have safe facilities that are conducive to learning. Schools also need reliable transportation to ensure that boys and girls travel safely to and from school each day.

Underlying all of these needs is the need for resources. Teachers must be paid. Textbooks must be purchased. The light bill must be paid. The buses must be fueled. All of these require resources. For too long, the community in which a student lived determined how much that student was able to learn. From 1953 until 1997, the Minimum Foundation Program was the primary funding formula for schools. It was the state’s first attempt at giving all schools the resources they needed. Basically, every school received the same per pupil amount, which sounds fair.

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However, in reality, the children who grew up in more populated areas with stronger tax bases received much more than the basics. The schools in those areas were able to supplement the resources they received from the state with local funds and provide their students with the additional services and opportunities for learning to move their schools from good to great. In other areas of the state, the tax base was so limited that the schools had to rely almost exclusively on state funds and had very few resources beyond what was needed for teachers, books, lights and buses.

In 1997, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) was passed to provide an adequate and equitable education for all students in Mississippi. It is a good formula that helps the schools in poorer communities without unfairly burdening the communities that have greater economic tax bases. As Mississippi moved toward implementing the Mississippi Accountability System to ensure that all schools were providing a good education for all students, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program was implemented to provide them with the resources necessary to meet those standards.

The formula uses actual expenditures of schools to determine what is an adequate amount. However, not all schools are included in the formula. Under the Mississippi Accountability System, all schools are rated between Level 1, Low-Performing, and Level 5, Superior-Performing. Level 3 and above are considered successful. Only Level 3, Successful, schools are used in the formula, which helps to keep the cost of the formula down. The idea is that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that all schools have the resources they need to reach mid-level accountability standards and then it is up to the schools to supplement those funds with local and federal dollars in order to soar to Level 4, Exemplary, or Level 5, Superior-Performing.

There are other factors that the formula looks at to ensure that we are using only the most representative schools in the state when calculating the per pupil base student cost. Once the schools have been determined, we ask them for their expenditures so that the MAEP calculations can be made. Like all state agencies, we are required to submit a budget proposal to the Legislative Budget Office in September. To meet this deadline, we must ask school districts to submit their projected costs to us. We are also required to submit a revised budget to the Legislature when it convenes. For the final budget, we use actual figures supplied to us from the school districts. In most cases, there is a variance between the projected costs and the actual costs.

This year, using the projected costs, the budget the Mississippi Department of Education submitted to the Legislative Budget Office in September required an additional $158 million for MAEP over the amount that was appropriated in FY 07. When we used the actual expenditures to run the MAEP calculation in December in preparation for providing the information to the Legislature at the beginning of the 2007 Legislative Session, we determined that the additional amount needed for MAEP was $124 million. The difference was simply the result of using actual expenditures, which were not available in September when we first ran the calculation, for the final calculation.

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program was designed to be adequate, not extravagant. The base student cost is $4, 465. In a report released November 20, 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that Mississippi’s per pupil expenditures were $6,780 in FY 04, far below the national average of $9,762 for the same time period. While an increase of $124 million is a substantial amount, the formula itself, when fully funded, grows very little. Underfunding in previous years necessitates large increases to reach full funding.

A study commission to review the MAEP formula was formed through legislation passed during the 2005 Legislative Session. The study commission found the formula to be strong and only recommended small adjustments, such as changes necessary to address the needs of the high-growth districts and maintaining a set base student cost with only cost-of-living increases for three years once the formula is fully funded, to the Legislature last year. The Legislature passed their recommendations during the 2006 Legislative Session.

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program uses a strong, solid formula to determine how much the state should invest in the education of Mississippi’s boys and girls. Education plays an important role in economic development in our state. However, when you look beyond the numbers, you see that education gives our children and our state something more important than money. Education gives each child, and therefore our state, hope for a better future and a way to turn that hope into reality.