School funding rewrite won't happen under budget deadline

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An effort to rewrite Mississippi's school-funding formula will not be limited by the budget deadlines of the regular legislative session, House Speaker Philip Gunn said Tuesday.

Gunn, R-Clinton, told reporters that two big education bills will be handled later — most likely in the next few weeks during a special legislative session. The governor could call a special session during the three-month regular session, which is set to end in early April.

Gunn said one bill would rewrite the school-funding formula, and the other would put money into it.

Legislators missed a deadline last week to rewrite the formula because they couldn't reach consensus on a plan. Budget bills have later deadlines in the regular session.

The current school-funding formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was put into law in 1997 but has been fully funded only two years. It is designed to give school districts enough money to meet midlevel academic standards.

Republican legislative leaders several months ago hired EdBuild, a New Jersey-based consulting group, to examine the way Mississippi pays for schools. The group made recommendations in January. Some property-rich districts would lose a portion of state financial support if the EdBuild recommendations were adopted unchanged, although most legislative leaders said changes would be made. No proposal has been revealed, but the possibility of forcing local tax increases has caused heartburn for some lawmakers.

The House and Senate have until Feb. 22 to pass the first draft of bills for the overall state budget. Each chamber passes about 50, and then they trade bills for more work. The final budget-writing deadline for the regular session is in late March, and the fiscal year begins July 1.

Legislators are working to plug some holes in the current year's budget. The Division of Medicaid and the Department of Corrections are among the agencies requesting more cash to operate through June 30.

Mississippi tax collections have lagged behind expectations the past several months, which means early budget proposals for the coming year are relatively modest.

Agencies could be told to limit their travel expenses and to delay the purchase of vehicles. Jobs that have been vacant for several months could be eliminated.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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