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Gov. Reeves Endorses INSPIRE Act’s School Funding Overhaul: ‘Fund Students, Not Systems’

Gov. Tate Reeves delivers speaks from an inside podium
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves endorsed the INSPIRE Act, an effort to overhaul Mississippi’s public-school funding formula, on March 25, 2024. The governor called on lawmakers to “fund students, not systems.” AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The INSPIRE Act, an effort to overhaul Mississippi’s education funding formula, has earned the support of Gov. Tate Reeves. The Republican governor said the state “must fund students, not systems.”

“And we must keep tax dollars where they are most impactful—in the classroom,” he said in a statement on Monday, March 25. “That means focusing on students and teachers—not administrators and the status quo. I’m glad to see that the Mississippi House passed the INSPIRE Act.

The Mississippi House passed the INSPIRE Act with a bipartisan 95-13 majority on March 6 (14 members voted present). The legislation’s authors say the goal is to promote equity in student funding. It includes a provision that attaches additional funding weights to certain student populations, including those who are low-income, English-language learners, special-education students and students in career-technical programs.

The INSPIRE Act includes a minimum base student funding formula of $6,650 per student that the Legislature would set or readjust annually. That’s lower than the nearly $7,500 per student that MAEP’s formula would require if the Legislature fully fund it. But the INSPIRE Act’s funding weights would require the State to allocate an additional 10% for students in districts with high poverty rates; 20% for English-language learners; 30% for students who are low income; and 60% for each student with a learning disability. MAEP does not have comparable weighting formulas for students who may require more funds, though it does include a 5% bump to account for each student who qualifies for free or reduced lunches.

“We’ve got a program and a formula in front of you today that puts as much emphasis on equity for our school districts as anything you’ve ever seen,” Rep. Rob Roberson, a Starkville Republican and the bill’s principal author, told the House floor on March 6.

“We’re giving a weight to that district that’s in poverty, for kids that are in special needs (programs) … so that children that need additional help will have the funding to back that help up,” he added. “That’s not something we’ve done before. The bottom line is, this does that.”

The INSPIRE Act would replace the current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Though adopted in 1997, the State has only fully funded education under MAEP twice. Lawmakers estimate the new formula would increase school funding for the upcoming fiscal year by over $240 million compared to what MAEP currently calls for, bringing the total to over $3 billion. Most school districts, except some in affluent areas or in areas where a MAEP provision prevented funding decreases despite significant population declines, would enjoy funding increases under the proposal, lawmakers project.

Two men in suits high five while other men look around. A voting result board with many names on it hangs behind them.
Mississippi House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Loyd Roberson II, R-Starkville (left) and committee Vice Chairman Rep. Kent McCarty, R-Hattiesburg, (center) high five Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville (center with back to the camera) after the passage of the INSPIRE Act, a new school-funding formula designed to direct more money to poorer public school districts. The House passed the bill by a 95-13 vote on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Not everyone is onboard with the INSPIRE Act, however. In late February, Nancy Loome, a public education lobbyist and the executive director of the Parents’ Campaign, told the Mississippi Free Press she is concerned that the bill does not define an objective formula for base costs and instead leaves it up to lawmakers beyond the $6,650 minimum.

“The thing that we know for sure is that it does not contain any objective formula for determining the base costs. That is up to the Legislature every year to just pick a number,” she told the Mississippi Free Press on Feb. 26.

The INSPIRE Act is now awaiting action in a Senate committee. On March 7, the Senate passed its own school-funding reform bill, which would keep MAEP but revamp it with local communities required to pay a modestly higher part of school funding than before. Senate Bill 2332, as passed in the upper chamber, would have increased funding by $210 million. But on March 21, the House amended the bill with a strike-all that replaced its text with the INSPIRE Act’s text. If the two chambers decide to move forward on reforming education funding, lawmakers would likely have to work out their differences in conference.

The Parents’ Campaign now lists both the House’s original INSPIRE Act bill, House Bill 1453, and the amended S.B. 2332 as bills that “would harm public-school children and teachers” on its website.

“SB 2332 was amended by the House to remove the original Senate language and replace it with HB 1453, meaning it is now a harmful bill; eliminates the MAEP; includes no objective formula for the base student cost, allowing the Legislature to decide how much funding schools need,” the public education lobbying group says on its website.

In his statement on Monday, Reeves urged the Senate to support the INSPIRE Act.

“Thanks to those House members who are working tirelessly to find innovative solutions to develop a new funding model that focuses on what’s best for kids. I hope the Senate will follow suit and tell the coalition of the status quo they won’t win every time,” the governor said.

In addition to Roberson, the INSPIRE Act’s coauthors include Rep. Kent McCarty, R-Hattiesburg; Rep. Dana McLean, R-Columbus; and Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville.

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