The current leadership has for years suggested that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) formula should be changed – they just haven’t been able to tell us what changes need to be made. Altering the school funding formula is serious business. It could have a dramatic effect on the quality of education provided Mississippi children and the equity with which state funds are allocated to schools – both of which have an impact on every quality of life issue in our state (jobs, income, crime, etc.).
The current formula was created with years of study, hearings, and debate, and with the benefit of significant outside expertise. Any changes to the formula should be made with equal diligence and deliberation.
It appears that just the opposite could be in the works. HB 458 brings forward the complete MAEP statute, but not a single change to the law is proposed in the legislation – yet. The bill includes a reverse repealer, a measure that will force the bill to a conference committee where three members of the House and three members of the Senate, appointed by the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor, could make changes in secret.
The conference process is intended to be used to negotiate final language when the chambers disagree on details of a bill. Unfortunately, it appears that “conference” will be used as a back door to the entire MAEP formula, circumventing the legislative committee process to make changes to the MAEP that will reduce school funding without a full public vetting. Here’s why that is problematic:
Most often, conference committee members work out details in private and hold a last-minute public meeting to announce the changes that have been made to a bill. In recent years, many conference reports have been held until the deadline, making it difficult for the public – and most legislators – to know what changes have been made before the conference report is brought up for a vote.
The conference committee process is in stark contrast to the full and deliberate vetting employed in the creation of the current MAEP formula. Holding all changes until the bill gets to conference smacks of big government forcing its will on the people without inviting their input.
If the leadership did not know by the start of the legislative session what changes to the MAEP it wanted to put forward, it should not try to push through an overhaul of the formula at the last hour.
Legislative leaders should hold hearings this summer or fall to gather public input and allow a full debate during the 2017 Legislative Session on any proposed alterations. On an issue of this importance, the people of Mississippi expect nothing less than a legislative process marked by maximum disclosure and transparency.