State leaders, frustrated by Mississippi’s perennial placement near the bottom of education rankings, have taken to saying that they want to “fund what works” in education. The implication is that they want to move away from the per-student funding provided through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) and instead simply fund their pet education programs. Programmatic funding funds programs; formula funding (the MAEP) funds students. The difference is significant.
The problems with a move toward programmatic funding are numerous. The push for mandated programs also smacks of a heavy handed, top-down, Big Brother Government mentality that is surprising given our conservative state leadership.
The most obvious problems with a shift toward programmatic funding are these…
What works for one doesn’t work for others. Any teacher – or parent, for that matter – will tell you that our children are not a “one size fits all” bunch; neither are Mississippi communities nor Mississippi schools. Needs vary from student to student, from school to school, and from district to district. Forcing schools to adopt legislators’ pet programs – often those pushed by corporate lobbyists who stand to make a buck (or many bucks) off of education funding dollars – would be counter-productive and a tremendous step backward. Under a programmatic system, if the program de jour doesn’t work for your kid, too bad. Your kid won’t get what he needs because your child won’t be funded. The program that doesn’t work for him will be.
Programmatic funding ties the hands of good local school leaders, stifling the very innovation that legislators claimed to champion during the charter school debate. When funds are restricted to certain programs, our children are denied the individualized, differentiated teaching and support that research shows is essential to their success.
The most successful schools are nimble – able to adjust day by day to the needs of the students in their classrooms. What worked for last year’s class might well be less successful this year. Great educators are creative, innovative, and flexible; they can turn on a dime and implement a new methodology when the old one isn’t working. Program-restricted funding does not allow for this sort of flexibility.
The legislature is famous for providing only partial funding for programs. The literacy initiative passed in the 2013 session is the perfect example. State leaders claimed it was modeled after Florida’s successful program and promised similar results. In the end, they provided just 6 percent of the per-student funding that Florida provided. While Florida’s program was designed and funded to provide services for every Florida child, the Mississippi Legislature funded our program to serve only six percent of Mississippi’s children.
Legislators are not education experts. They have no business dictating to schools how they must educate our children. There is no research at all to support programmatic, restrictive school funding. Rather, legislators should set a high standard, provide adequate resources, and hold education leaders accountable for their results. Most importantly, they should get out of the way and let teachers do their jobs. Lately, they’ve done just the opposite.
Children in low-wealth communities will be hurt disproportionately, though all children will be big losers under this ill-conceived plan. Wealthier districts will have at least some local resources to put toward interventions that work well for the children in their communities while low-wealth districts will be stuck with Big Brother’s one-size-fits-all lobbyist programs.
“What works” is brilliant teaching, manageable class size, excellent instructional leadership, and instruction that is geared toward specific students’ needs – all of which require adequate resources. That is exactly what the MAEP is designed to provide. Legislators should continue to provide funding for each of our children – not for pet programs pushed by their lobbyist friends.