Opinion: School funding a lot more complex than formula

William B. Carroll
Staff Writer

After the fall of Initiative 42, legislators say they now want to change Mississippi’s education funding formula. I applaud the effort, but think it is probably a road to nowhere.
Mississippi’s current educational funding formula is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The MAEP seeks to “Ensure that every Mississippi Child regardless of where he/she lives is afforded an adequate educational opportunity, as defined by the State Accountability System.”
In order to this, the MAEP creates a funding formula which considers a variety of factors including what is known as the “base student cost.” The formula of course assumes that there is a dollar figure which can be attached to efficient and successful districts to then attempt to maximize other districts in order to make them successful as well. Again, that assumes that there is a perfect number of expenditures which ensures a school will perform better. For instance, if the perfect number was say $10,000 per student (this figure is given simply as an example) then the presumption would be that the closer a district gets to that figure, the better the instruction will be.
Now, it is true that wealthier school districts tend to have better performing students. But, is this because the districts themselves have more money? Or because wealthier districts tend to have wealthier families, who tend to be higher on the socioeconomic, and therefore educational strata, than those in poorer districts. (In layman’s terms, they have higher educated parents, which tends to beget generally smarter and more educationally astute children). My argument is for the latter, so you can’t simply assume that matching better performing districts dollar for dollar is going to ensure that the under-performing district will match the higher performing district.
On the flip-side, poorer school districts tend to be in locales where the citizens have lower socioeconomic opportunities, and therefore a higher probability of students who under-perform. Can simply matching dollars help these students? Probably not, since they are starting from a different perspective, in essence they are starting on first base as opposed to third base, to use a baseball analogy.
In fact, it might be argued under this concept that poorer districts actually need a lot more money in order to obtain the same results as richer districts, not only in order to match those districts dollar for dollar, but to make up for the deficiencies that their children naturally might have coming from a less educationally rich environment.
My sister, who is a school teacher says that a lot of educating kids starts at home, and she is right. There are great teachers out there, but teachers can only do so much. It is important that parents also work to develop their children, and this can be difficult in circumstances where the parent might have only a high school education or less or might suffer from other setbacks that infringes on their ability to help educate their children.
My guess is had Initiative 42 passed and had funding been mandated, I don’t believe we would see a significant uptick in the performance of our schools and our school children. Of course it is easy to make that prediction since it didn’t happen, but where would we be if we put more money into our schools only to obtain the same results? Would we go back to the drawing board? That is the rub. The issue of educational funding is a complex one.
As I have mentioned above, how do you resolve a situation where, because of additional resources, the schools are better, but the home life is still unable to enhance a child’s education? Again, schools can only do so much. So here is what I propose. If we are to consider school funding, we need to consider all of the other ancillary issues to school funding and look at how we can improve entire communities from the ground up. By this, I am not saying that we should throw money at other issues, but merely that we have to accept that these other issues exist, and attempt to solve our school problem by looking at all of the factors that determine whether a child can be successful in school. I think looking at just school funding is missing a variety of issues. In many districts in this state where the state has had to take over the district administratively, the communities themselves are in such a state of disarray, that even MDE control of the district cannot fix the community. Therefore, our school problem masks a bigger societal problem we have not fixed yet, and until we do we can have all the formulas in the world and we will still be dead last where it matters.