A nonprofit organization’s analysis of public school funding in America surprised no one when it noted wide differences among the states in the amount of money schools get.

As far as Mississippi goes, though, the analysis by the Education Law Center, reported by The Washington Post, did feature two surprises:

• While the state rates poorly for the amount of state and local taxes spent per student, it fares much better when that money is compared to Mississippi’s economic output.

• Two decades of not fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program means that the state’s high-poverty districts actually got a little less money than did other districts.

All of the Education Law Center’s figures were from 2017, when the national average of state plus local spending per student was right at $14,046. Mississippi spent only $10,138 per student, a deficit of $3,908 per child.

The state’s spending ranked 42nd nationally, and got an F rating, although the study noted that’s only in comparison to what other states spend on education — and not to any specific spending goal.

By that measuring stick, Mississippi cannot hope to compete with wealthier states because it simply has less money. However, the report gave the state a B when it compared its education spending to economic output.

Mississippi’s gross domestic product per person was $33,646 in 2017 — the lowest in the country, and one of only six states below a GDP of $40,000. Yet the state committed 4.07% of its economic output to education, comfortably above the national average of 3.79%.

As a point of comparison, three other states with per-person output below $40,000 — South Carolina, West Virginia and Arkansas — spent between 4.25% and 4.45% of their output on education. Mississippi is at least in their ballpark, and if campaign promises of teacher pay raises win approval in the Legislature, the state will continue to exceed the national average.

Mississippi’s inability to steer more money to high-poverty school districts is the clear disappointment in the report. Given that the student bodies of many rural districts in Mississippi have high-poverty rates, the state is holding itself back when it does not commit more money to help these children.

To put it another way, what’s the point of the MAEP? The report gave Mississippi a C, saying that in 2017 the state’s high-poverty school districts received 2% less state and local money than those in lower-poverty areas.

Most likely, relatively small property tax receipts from lesser-developed rural counties played a large role in this underfunding. But the point of the MAEP as originally envisioned was that the state would make up for these shortages. For various reasons, this has not happened.

If you agree with research that says it costs more to educate students in high-poverty districts, this disparity will hold Mississippi back, even as the state actually makes a little progress in improving its education results.

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