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Report: From 2002 to 2020, per-pupil spending, performance rises

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(The Center Square) – Mississippi’s per-student spending has increased 21% from 2002 to 2023, a report on K-12 education by the Reason Foundation says.

The state led several performance categories as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Process standardized tests.

The report, “Public Education at a Crossroads: A Comprehensive Look at K-12 Resources and Outcomes,” found that Mississippi spending increased from $8,878 per student in 2002 to $10,774 per student in 2020.

The report had a national component and ones for each state.

Reason found nationally that:

• Education spending was up in nearly every state.

• Teacher salaries lagged behind funding growth.

• Public school staffing growth is outpacing enrollment.

• Education dollars are increasingly being spent on employee benefits.

• There isn’t a consistent causation between spending and student outcomes, especially as evidenced by test scores.

From 2003 to 2019, fourth grade NAEP reading scores in Mississippi increased by 14 points and mathematics by 18 points, best in the nation. Mississippi also led eighth grade math scores with an 18% increase. Those scores did fall for eighth graders in reading during that same period, as scores increased by a point (15th nationally).

Low-income students weren’t left behind. From 2003 to 2019, fourth grade reading scores were up by 18 points (second nationally) and math scores were up by 20 points for first place. Eighth grade reading scores increased for low-income students by four points (13th) and math scores increased by 16 points, best in the country.

According to data from the state Department of Education, in the 2001-02 school year there were 487,862 students enrolled in Mississippi public schools. This year, enrollment is down to 436,523, a drop of 10.5%.

The report says spending on state employee benefits was in line with the national trend, growing by 53.6% (31st nationally). Those costs increased from $1,315 per student to $2,020 per student. The state’s education-related debt also increased by $442 per student, ballooning to $2.06 billion in 2020.

On the staffing side, K-12 education employees grew by 3.2%, but most of that was non-teachers (5%). The number of teachers increased by 1.2% while their average inflation-adjusted salaries, despite several pay hikes passed by lawmakers, shrank from $48,078 in 2002 to $46,843 in 2020. That put the state 30th in that category.

With that in mind, lawmakers are making some changes this session. Senate Bill 2332 would rewrite the state’s long-standing education funding formula called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program that has been the subject of political controversy and litigation. The bill passed the Senate on Thursday by a 49-0 vote.

The legislation would require a larger local contribution (going from a 27% of operational cost to 29.5%) from wealthier school districts. It would also reduce the amount of inflation rate applied to MAEP’s per-student cost and would eliminate a clause in the MAEP law that prevents school districts from receiving less funding than they did in 2002.

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