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More Districts Could Join K-12 Funding Suit Against Miss., Former Governor Says

A former governor of Mississippi who sued the state last month on behalf of several school districts for allegedly perpetuating an unconstitutional school funding system, says that the number of districts that are plaintiffs in the lawsuit may triple, and that the chronic underfunding of schools has damaged their ability to transition to the Common Core State Standards, among other issues.

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, the Democrat who served as governor from 2000 to 2004 and now heads a strategic communications firm, told the Associated Press that roughly 30 districts are considering joining the 14 that have already filed suit over the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), the K-12 formula that provides state aid to districts. Musgrove filed the suit Aug. 28 under the auspices of the MAEP Legal Group.

MAEP is designed to provide more aid to poorer districts, but the lawsuit says that since fiscal 2010 the state has shortchanged districts under the formula by $1.5 billion. 

Interestingly, another group seeking a legal requirement for the state to fully fund schools in Mississippi, Better Schools, Better Jobs, is pursuing a different avenue for its goal—a ballot initiative that would enshrine the full-funding requirement in the state constitution. A spokesman for Better Schools Better Jobs, Patsy Brumfield, told the AP that while Musgrove has the right idea, his lawsuit isn't ultimately the right approach. Only a constitutional amendment like the one her group is seeking will protect school funding the way advocates want it to be, Brumfield said.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, and others say that funding the MAEP the way Musgrove and others want would wreck the state's budget. Last February, State Auditor Stacey Pickering wrote to legislators to say that the formula needs a significant overhaul, aside from any additional funding that districts might desire. There are problems with the data that the formula uses that deal with average daily attendance and "at-risk" students. Read his letter below:

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