A Chance for Equity in Mississippi’s Schools

Over the recent past, much has been written and said about MAEP, the funding formula for Mississippi’s public schools. It’s one of those terms that everyone recognizes as having “something” to do with public schools, that politicians squabble over, and that few really understand.

Here is a little primer on one of the most important components of Mississippi’s educational system – The Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

Although MAEP became law in 1994, previously there had been about a 15-year push for equitable funding for Mississippi’s public schools. It was recognized that the “wealthy district” schools were automatically better supported, offering students more resources and choices, than the struggling, rural schools.

For years, educators had recognized that the disparities were not only unfair, but they were an underlying cause of the education system’s inability to create full opportunities for student achievement in every corner of the state. Areas with more robust tax bases could better supplement the meager state contributions, which were based primarily on average daily attendance. The evidence was clear that Mississippi’s students were not achieving at the performance level of students in other states, due in part because of anemic and uneven school funding across the state.

In the early 1990’s, Legislative leadership made establishing an “even playing ground” for all public schools a keystone public policy push, despite pushback from some in the “wealthy districts” who were afraid their own resources would be threatened.

The Legislature authorized a study committee that met over two years and consisted of consultants, legislators, Department of Education personnel and others. The study committee’s work resulted in two pieces of legislation: The MAEP and the Mississippi Accountability System. Both measures were passed over the governor’s veto.

The MAEP, first implemented in 1997, addressed the inequities of educational opportunity brought about by the circumstances of local economies. It is a funding formula that starts with the amount of money to provide each student an “adequate” education, and then subtracts how much the local district must pay. It also includes a cap on local district contributions.

The Mississippi Accountability System was the genesis of the current rating system for schools. The effort to ensure rescue by the State of chronically low-performing schools was added in 2009 via the Children First Act.

Although some have characterized the MAEP as “confusing” and “out-dated,” it is an easy-to-understand concept with a sensible implementation method of ensuring that Mississippi students have at least an “adequate” opportunity to learn and achieve their highest potential.

In order to realize the full potential of the MAEP, it must be funded, and that has happened only twice since 1997.