Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Sid Salter: Calls to Scrap or Change MAEP Formula Have Consequences

The Mississippi Adequate Education Formula had its genesis almost 30 years ago in politics – the politics of avoiding being forced to equalize public education funding at the tip of the spear of a federal lawsuit.

Despite the noble intent of equalizing public school funding often assigned to evolving discussions of the formula, the fact is that it continues to be a highly political plan conceived not to “fully fund” education but to avoid losing in the federal courts.

Once again state lawmakers are confronting ongoing debate on the future of MAEP. Some lawmakers want to “fix” it. Others want to “replace” it with a new or different funding formula. Others want to add “school choice” or vouchers to the status quo as an alternative.

MAEP was created in 1997 in reaction to lawsuits nationally from education advocacy groups which were successfully suing states on grounds that it was unconstitutional that students living in poorer school districts were being denied the same public education advantages being afforded to students in more affluent districts.

Many of these lawsuits were coming out of rural school districts in Texas where predominantly Hispanic students were facing deep disparities in impoverished public school districts. Mississippi lawmakers saw those lawsuits as the ghosts of political Christmas future for Mississippi’s impoverished Black majority districts. MAEP was the eventual answer to that threat.

To be fair, no small number of bi-partisan lawmakers wanted Mississippi to improve public education for all. Period.

Over the years, the MAEP political narrative developed that altruistic Democrats led the fight to fully fund MAEP only to be stopped by anti-education Republican governors and legislative leaders. But in political reality, Mississippi has only “fully funded” MAEP twice and both times were in statewide election years (2003 and 2007) in which Mississippians elected GOP leadership to the Governor’s Mansion.

During the administration of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, the Legislature “tweaked” MAEP to provide additional funds for so-called “high growth” school districts in 2005. It was a fairly easy sell in the Legislature.

Why? Because most of those “high growth” school districts were located in the state’s top 10 Republican counties - including Rankin, DeSoto, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Madison, Jones, Harrison, Pearl River, and Lee - the counties that had the highest GOP margins of victory in the 2003 governor’s race.

During the 2006 debates over high-growth school districts, Barbour was in danger of losing his iron grip on the state Senate on the MAEP issue - because senators in heavily Republican counties were being pressured by their constituents to fund MAEP to stave off local property tax increases for school support.

But the eventual “tweaking” of MAEP included a mechanism to provide additional MAEP funds for “high growth” school districts and Barbour was the political beneficiary along with legislators who represented those “high growth” school district counties.

That’s not to suggest that the “high growth” funds weren’t necessary or that Barbour should be criticized for any Machiavellian shenanigans in agreeing with the Legislature in tweaking the formula to provide them. But the political reality is that MAEP was closer to being fully funded in those Republican “high growth” strongholds than it was in the majority of school districts that were mostly rural, mostly poor, mostly African American, and for which MAEP was created in the first place.

Need an example? With the “high growth” funds that year, the proposed MAEP funding level for the affluent DeSoto County School District would have been $122.7 million, less than 1 percent shy of the fully funded level of $123.8 million.

But the Mound Bayou School District in impoverished Bolivar County was proposed to get $3.6 million in MAEP funds, which was about 4.2 percent shy of the fully funded level.

This brings us back to the question that MAEP was supposed to have answered back in 1997 – don’t the children in Mound Bayou deserve the same place at the educational starting line as do the kids in Southaven or Olive Branch?

MAEP can certainly be changed or replaced. There’s nothing magic about it. But “school choice” won’t solve educational disparities or change the fact that all Mississippi children deserve an equal place at the starting line in public schools.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

"Why? Because most of those “high growth” school districts were located in the state’s top 10 Republican counties - including Rankin, DeSoto, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Madison, Jones, Harrison, Pearl River, and Lee - the counties that had the highest GOP margins of victory in the 2003 governor’s race."

Has Sid ever thought that the "high growth Republican" areas are areas that hold strong values at home, parents that care, fathers in the home, etc? I am sorry, but throwing money at under-performing school districts to try and solve the problem isn't the answer. It also leaves the door wide open for buddy deals and grift. Does anyone want to look at the admiration payroll per student in these lesser performing school districts? What about number of administrators per student?

Anonymous said...

I listened to an egg-head on radio yesterday attempting to explain what he claims is a simpler formula. Not.

I consider myself to be a fiscal conservative. I also believe, though, that the 'poorer' counties cannot possibly provide what is needed based on their tax base (property owners).

A mil is a mil, right? Wrong.

Anonymous said...

We should all speak honestly. The money goes for funding the operation of a state-funded system of daycare, not for education.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought that these so called "underperforming" schools/districts are more about underperforming students than the school or district. If you were to conduct a study of failing students, chances are you would find a failing home life.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder if it would be cheaper for us to offer to pay for moving trucks, so that all these poor besotted individuals can get out of these dead end locations to where there are jobs, internet, better schools than to continue throw money into a community that is on the path of self destruction. I'm for helping my fellow man, but there comes a time where it is put up or shut up. Don't like your community, MOVE. Want to improve your station in life, learn a trade. Stop listening to the malcontents that are throwing obstacles in your path. Stop sitting in the cesspool waiting for a handout, clean yourself up and move to better pastures.

Sherra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Every superintendent and in an already bloated admin district is pulling real hard for this.

Which tell me I should be very much opposed to MAEP.

Cut the ridiculously redundant jobs, ban travel to all the fancy conferences, consolidate at least half the districts and then ask for more money.

Otherwise, stop panhandling for more admin funds and pretending its for the kids.

Anonymous said...

You can through all the money you want at Mound Bayou schools, Sid.

And the end product will be the same as it is now.

Anonymous said...

50 cents out of every Miss tax dollar goes to funding k-12 education-

let's make it a dollar.

Anonymous said...

February 28, 2024 at 9:41 AM I never said improving your position and lot in life would be easy. I sincerely hope you and your family succeeded in improving your lot despite the roadblocks that others put in your way. People can be cruel. I know people that succeeded in spite of everything and everybody around them. I have also have seen people fall into the deepest hole even though they had everything going for them and and an entire cheering squad rooting for them. It is what you make of your situation that counts. Having lived in MS most of my life, the question "Your not from around here are you?" is usually one of the first questions asked in most Mississippi Communities. The Cliques are pervasive in these southern towns.

Anonymous said...

Once again, we see that politicians can only focus on money. Throw money at any situation and it will fix itself??? I do t have the patience to read all of Sid’s long winded and maximum verbosity thesis papers, but until you address broken homes/families, cultural issues, and other blockades to success, all the money in the world won’t change the result coming from our state run “attendance centers”…. Even the name shows the misguided focus on attending and not learning….

Anonymous said...

Money is not what makes a district perform well and money won’t cure the ills of poorly performing districts. Can the legislature replace a lack of parenting with their funding formula? Can they turn bad teachers into good teachers just by paying them more? Does the funding formula keep students from dropping out and hitting the streets? Throwing money around, or taking money from a high performing district and giving it to a low performing district doesn’t add up to more succcess for either one.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:15 - what the heck is an "admiration payroll per student?"

@ 10:32 - "You can through all the money you want at Mound Bayou schools, Sid. And the end product will be the same as it is now."

You mean graduates who can't spell "throw?"

I am not a fan of the concept of government funded schools, with the exception of military academies, STEM universities, etc., necessary to produce those who make things work. Perhaps it's better to require folks to pay for and benefit or suffer from their own choices.

Anonymous said...

The more I read Sid and Crawford, the more I miss James Tulp.

Saltwaterpappy said...

"Reform for the sake of reform, always leads to the need for more reform. The needed funding should ultimately come from the continued attraction of new businesses to the state. This will increase the ad valorem tax base which funds education.

Anonymous said...

Of all the states in this country one place that has NEVER "thrown money" at public education is Mississippi. But at least we have sense of humor, it makes a good joke. It's still all about WHO and not WHAT in Mississippi. If the right WHO wants the money it's never wasteful. The wrong WHO can pound sand. And that's the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

I can vaguely recall hearing since the shortly after the days of Willem (can't we just get along) Wintrow that MAEP has never been funded anyway. Is that true?

Neither will the re-write be.

Anonymous said...

"I am not a fan of the concept of government funded schools..."

Right on my brother. I live at the end of a county, dead-end road, and as such, I think I should have to pay for this damned road myself. Same with stop-and-go lights downtown and the interstate. If you drive, you pay for the road, not the government. Period.

Anonymous said...

Dear friend, Sid. You are correct on one ending statement and wrong on others. Yes, "MAEP can certainly be changed or replaced. There’s nothing magic about it." Despite many in the legislature trying to claim that MAEP is equivalent to the Gospel, handed down from the heavens and written in stone on a mountain-top, it was a formula developed by a couple of legislators (only one of which may still be around today) and has been proven many times over that it is full of flaws. (Read the multiple studies by outside groups and State Auditors regarding the ways that the inputs into the formula have been manipulated.)
But “school choice” won’t solve educational disparities or change the fact that all Mississippi children deserve an equal place at the starting line in public schools" does nothing but reiterate the b/s that the public school lobby continues to argue,while ignoring the reality. School Choice can change the fact that a child CAN GET an equal place at the starting line if the child (or his/her parent) wants to change that starting line. It gives an opportunity to that child who lives in a zip code that ensures little to no change of a good education one that today the government restricts. It allows a child in the inner city of Jackson (one who can not run fast or jump high, but could make great grades on standardized tests or hold his/her own for honors in our states better schools) to have an opportunity to not just change the starting line but also the finish line.

And - it meets the stated goal of out 'public policy' - which is to educate out children. There is nothing that says that education has to be through a "PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM"; that's not the goal. (Yes, Sid, recognize that both your parents were great members of the public education system of previous decades, and many are thankful for that; too bad there are children today that don't benefit from people like your father's administrative abilities and your mother's classroom abilities.) But the goal is not to be successful in operating a PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM, but it is to EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN, in the best possible process.

The 'taking away' money from PUBLIC SCHOOLS ignores the fact that it also takes away STUDENTS. Whatever formula is adopted, it will have to consider how many students in each system are involved. Losing one student doesn't change the administrative costs; losing one hundred students does impact the budget, but it should also impact the operation costs of the system -- if they are properly administring the system.

School choice is an attack on the status quo, it is not an attack on what should be the goal of Government; educating its citizens.

Anonymous said...

334 - evidentlty you have no connection or knowledge of the City of Jackson and Jackson's Public Schools. Yes, those folks who live in Jackson have the highest property taxes allowed by law, plus some that have been added over and above what law allows. And, it has the highest taxes of any area of the state that goes to 'fund' its public schools through Jackson Public Schools. And Jackson Public Schools spends more dollars per student than any school district in the state, by a factor of almost 50%.

Leave it be that the JPS system operates schools, particularly in the high school level, that sit at the bottom of all the state's high schools. And not much better at the middle and lower schools that it operates.

Highest local tax expenditure per student; lowest performance. Highest administrative cost. Most administrators per student.

Now, lets go back to your arguments -- looking at these facts (which can easily be documented and supported if you want to question them) -- and see if you can explain your position.

We'll wait.

Anonymous said...

Sigh...It's not how much you have to spend, it's how you spend it.

And, frankly, if you teach to test and teach as if " one size fits all".

If you don't have separate plans for children who have learning disabilities and those who have behavioral problems, the other children suffer.

If teaching doesn't include " thinking" and student can't comprehend what they read or are rewarded only for memorization, it fails.

And, IF you let a school system deteriorate so that the learning environment is miserable and funds are always to fix the plant and equipment, kids suffer.

And, FYI to those in private schools...some of them are "read the chapter, "copy the chapter as outlined on the board, test on the chapter". Only a below average student and above average don't make As. The below average student still hasn't retained enough from the repetition. The above average student is bored senseless and wasn't copying the outline but writing notes to friends or frustrating thoughts. You are paying thousands for poor results.

Once upon a time, you were assigned the chapter, the teacher added details on why it matters or answers questions. You are to do your own outline (not copy one) and then you are tested. You memorize poems. You might memorize the list of Greek and Roman gods and goddess or math and science formulas and symbols.

Mississippi doesn't want strong education. They want to protect the status quo.

Anonymous said...

10:59 Strange logic. You mean if you spend less you will get better results? You should advise Madison and Desoto County so they can start saving all their money. Imagine how much they would improve if they just stopped throwing money at education. After all, they don't want to be like Jackson do they? In fact the whole state can cut their expenditures in half and the schools will be 50% better. Look at JPS.... the example. You make a lot of sense.

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