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Where do key education bills stand as...

Where do key education bills stand as session nears end

By: Jeremy Pittari - April 15, 2024

  • Lawmakers remain divided on changes to the K-12 funding formula.

With only a few weeks left in this year’s legislative session, most of the bolder attempts at education reform have died or are on life support. Here’s a look at where things stand.

Funding for K-12

Funding Mississippi’s K-12 education system has been a back and forth battle this session, with the Senate and House offering competing visions for the formula that decides how money is distributed to students. Each chamber has stood firm in their positions.

Senate Bill 2332 would have tweaked the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) to provide more funding and a slight adjustment to how inflation is calculated, but would have left the 1997 funding formula otherwise in tact. House Bill 1453 sought to create a new formula, called The INSPIRE Act (INSPIRE). After HB 1453 died in Senate, the House amended SB 2332 to include the INSPIRE language and sent it back to the Senate for consideration. The Senate then killed SB 2332.

While the Senate’s MAEP revisions died with SB 2332, the funding that would have been generated from those revisions was inserted into HB 1823. Meanwhile, the House put INSPIRE into SB 2993, as a third attempt at gaining Senate backing.

No matter what happens, State Senator Dennis DeBar (R) has indicated that the education system will, at the very least, receive level funding while the two legislative bodies work out their differences before the start of the 2025 legislative session. However, until sine die is called, this, too, remains uncertain.

The Senate’s plan would increase total education funding by over $200 million, while the House’s plan would increase funding by $250 million.

In addition, teachers may see another pay raise. The Senate’s proposal includes a $1,000 increase on top of the record pay raises signed into law in 2022.

Virtual Classroom v. Modified Calendars

Many school districts in Mississippi find it difficult to attract enough teachers, particularly in advanced or specialized courses which cater to a smaller number of students.

HB 1192 sought to expand Mississippi’s virtual learning program to make it easier for districts to employ technology to fill those gaps, bringing virtual instruction in from outside the classroom.

However, the Senate amended the legislation away from an expansion of virtual learning to instead provide grants for school districts that choose to switch to the modified calendar. The amendment seeks to incentivize public school districts to maintain, or consider adopting, a modified school calendar by offsetting costs associated with adopting a modified school calendar through a time-limited grant.

Qualifying school districts could be eligible for a maximum award of $250,000.00 per year for a maximum of three years underthe Senate’s amendment. The bill is now back before the Mississippi House for consideration.

Education Savings Accounts

The push for universal school choice was a hot topic when the session began in January, but no bill that would have made it a reality lasted this session.

Currently, parents of children with special needs are the only families that have access to education savings accounts. The program, which was enacted in 2015, provides state funds to families that they can use at another education provider, including private schools, to get their students the education that best fits their needs.

HB 1229 would extend availability of the Special Needs ESA until July 1, 2028.

Applicable cases include instances where the child does not have access to special education classes at their public school. These funds can be used by the family to pay tuition to an applicable education institution, or cover tutoring, textbooks, curriculum fees and other educational expenses.

The bill is still alive, with the last action taken by the Senate, passing its own amended version off the floor last week with a vote of 48-3.

Failing School Districts

Currently, school districts that consistently receive an F assessment for two consecutive years as part of the Mississippi Department of Education’s assessment system are put into a category called “District of Transformation.” These schools are placed under the purview of the state if the Governor declares a state of emergency for that district.

When a school district becomes a District of Transformation, the state’s Recovery School District assumes decision-making power from the school board and the current superintendent.

HB 1696 would expand that system to include districts that consistently receive a D assessment.

Under the bill, school districts receiving an F score under the state’s education accountability system for two of three years, or that earn a D or F for four consecutive school years, would be subject to takeover. Districts where more than 50 percent of their schools are failing are also included.

HB 1696 removes the current requirement that the Governor declare a state of emergency in the district. Additionally, the Recovery School District would be replaced by the State Board of Education as the controlling body of the failing school districts.

Local control of a district would be returned after it receives a score of C, or higher, for three consecutive years.

A companion bill from the Senate, SB 2693, is also working its way through the process. Last week the Senate adopted a strike-all to HB 1696 with a vote of 52-0, inserting its own language from SB 2693.

End of Year Testing in Conference

High schoolers are required to take various end of course tests prior to walking across the stage to receive a diploma, including a series of subject matter proficiency tests during their 11th and 12th grade yeas.

SB 2689 proposed to replace those requirements with a nationally accredited test, such as the ACT or ACT WorkKeys.

The bill is headed to conference.


Editor’s Note: Late action on SB 2689 sent this bill to conference after originally being considered dead. In addition, a correction was made to clarify the Senate and House education funding positions.
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:
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