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House holds firm on INSPIRE Act as...

House holds firm on INSPIRE Act as Senate passes MAEP changes

By: Jeremy Pittari - March 8, 2024

Rep. Rob Roberson addresses the media during a press conference held Thursday about the passage of the INSPIRE Act, a piece of legislation that aims to replace the current MAEP education funding model to provide more education funding in Mississippi. (Photo by Jeremy Pittari | Magnolia Tribune)

  • While Speaker White wants the Senate to seriously consider the House legislation, Senate Education Chairman DeBar says the INSPIRE Act lacks objectivity and accountability.

On Thursday, education funding bills remained a hot topic in the Magnolia State’s Capitol.

Accusations were levied in the House concerning the passage of the INSPIRE Act the day before while the Senate passed its own version of an education funding bill that tweaks the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP funding formula . 

House members overwhelmingly passed HB 1453 on Wednesday by a vote of 95-13. It proposes to replace MAEP with the Investing in the Needs of Students to Prioritize, Impact and Reform Education Act, INSPIRE Act of 2024.

Just after the House gaveled in on Thursday, House Democratic Minority Leader State Rep. Robert Johnson called for a motion to reconsider the legislation. House Education Chairman and the bill’s author, State Rep. Rob Roberson (R), made a motion to table Johnson’s motion. 

Before a vote was held in the chamber, Rep. Johnson said his contention was that contrary to what he was told on Wednesday, the Legislative Budget Office (LBO) informed him that the numbers provided the day prior did not come from that office. He said the Mississippi Department of Education also told him they don’t know where the numbers came from. While at the podium, Rep. Johnson suggested the rest of the House ask the same questions.

“You’re a legislator just like I am. Go down to LBO and ask them for the same thing that I asked for and let them tell you the same thing they told me. ‘We don’t know where it came from,'” Johnson exclaimed. 

Rep. Roberson addressed the claims made by Johnson. 

“There was some information that was different. LBO did not create the numbers we gave you. They ran the numbers we gave you. There was a communication breakdown as to how that was done. I want to make for certain that y’all understand we’re OK, we respect each other, we’re going to be fine and we’re going to be moving forward with this,” Rep. Roberson said in regard to he and Johnson working together in the future. “But no one lied to you yesterday. I didn’t lie to you, our vice chair didn’t lie to you. There was no lie. Period. There may have been a communication breakdown and I apologize for that.” 

Roberson’s motion to table the motion to reconsider the bill by Johnson passed the House by a vote of 82-36, effectively sending the measure on to the Senate for their consideration.

After the House gaveled out for lunch, House Speaker Jason White (R) held a press conference to laud the move by the House to provide more funding to the state’s public education system. 

The House’s new formula focuses on using a weighted system of student funding starting with a base amount of $6,650 per pupil and adds percentages based on a variety of identified needs. 

“Those weight categories include low income, English learners, special education, gifted students, career tech education, concentrated poverty and sparsity,” White outlined. “This approach is more tailored to the exact students that the schools and districts actually serve. The formula is straight forward so schools and districts can easily calculate and predict their expected funding based on their enrollment.”

Speaker White said he expects the bill to provide more equitable funding, making a historic investment in the K-12 system and providing transparency. 

“Let me be clear, a vote against the INSPIRE Act is a vote against increased education funding by over $200 million. House Bill 1453 is proof that the Republican led House is serious about funding public education in our state that is transparent and student centered,” White said. 

Speaker White added that it is time to acknowledge that the MAEP formula is a thing of the past. As the bill moves to the Senate for consideration White is fully aware that the chamber has proposed its own legislation to keep the MAEP funding formula while making some changes to the formula. 

“It is the belief of the House of Representatives that the INSPIRE Act will bring the most predictable and equitable funding to our education spending. The House position on this issue is a major priority and one we won’t retreat from,” White said. 

Rep. Roberson stated that it is typical for people to attack a measure when it aims to change something that has long been established, but he said for the past 32 years MAEP has not worked. 

“This is a progressive bipartisan deal that will work. I beg each of you to look at what we are offering. I think you will love it. I think our superintendents will love it. I think our teachers will love it. I tell you our students will absolutely be better off,” Roberson said during the press conference with White.

The House Education Chairman also took a moment during the press conference to further address the alleged controversy during the morning session. 

“It was a communication breakdown in terms of where the weights came from. And we did use MDE data, this is information off the website,” Roberson said. 

With the Senate considering an alternate funding method, Speaker White said both sides have great ideas and while they differ, he respects his colleagues in the Senate. He just believes the INSPIRE Act provides an easy to understand formula.

“We hope they will take our idea, and I feel seriously, I expect there will be great debate on it. Certainly, there’s plenty of give and take around this place, it’s the way the world works. So, we expect to hear from them and them to weigh in on our legislation, and we’ll weigh in on theirs. We’ll see where we get,” White said. “If they want a straightforward formula that puts more money in public schools, I think they’ll take the INSPIRE Act very seriously.”

While all of this was unfolding on the House side of the Capitol, the Senate was making moves to keep the current MAEP funding formula through SB 2332, offering tweaks to the formula. The Senate bill would make adjustments to MAEP to ensure more education funding is provided than in prior years.

Thursday morning, the Senate took up SB 2332, approving it on the floor by a vote of 49-0.

Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis DeBar Jr., R-Leakesville, addresses committee members during a teacher pay hearing at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Senate Education Chairman Senator Dennis DeBar (R), the bill’s author, told Magnolia Tribune Thursday morning after its passage that while this year’s bill is similar to last year’s, SB 2332 added a few terms that will ensure education funds follow kids back to public school when they leave a charter school. It also ensures most of the funding, 90 percent or more, is used in the classroom and not on administration. DeBar said the more than $200 million in additional funding includes a health insurance increase and a 2 percent state retirement, or PERS increase. 

“I think every district is going to be increased as far as MAEP allocations, except those roughly 10 that are holding harmless to give them time to prepare for their decline in enrollment and less funding they will get because of it,” DeBar said.

The Senator said he chose to tweak the current MAEP model because to him it’s not broken. While not perfect, adjusting it will provide the necessary funding increase, DeBar believes. 

It’s unclear what the Senate will do with the INSPIRE Act as it now heads to their chamber for consideration, but to Senator DeBar, the House legislation lacks a clear formula.

“There is no objectivity to it and does not hold anybody accountable as far as the Legislature,” DeBar told Magnolia Tribune. 

Without a formula, DeBar said the House’s INSPIRE Act does not provide the security and stability school districts need. 

“MAEP has an objective formula to allow for us as legislators to be held accountable, allows school districts to have some assuredness to ensure they are funded every year and to know what it costs to actually educate,” DeBar added. 

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics. Email Jeremy: