On Tuesday, State Auditor Stacey Pickering addressed a full house at the House Appropriations Committee where he dove into an issue most lawmakers would rather avoid: the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP. MAEP seems to be democratic politicians code for a supply of money only deemed adequate by their ever changing standards.

Pickering didn’t get into if we were spending enough money or even if the formula itself was good or bad. (On a side note, he did present the formula which is the first time I’ve ever seen it and judging by reactions from the members, I would imagine it is the first time many of them have seen it. You can view it here).
Instead Pickering focused his fire on the numbers that go into the formula as he announced why his office was not certifying the data for 2012. Basically, the numbers can’t be verified, are un-auditable, and therefore are quite likely wrong.

Average Daily Attendance is the basis of the MAEP formula and the key determinant of the base student cost. As shown in the flow chart he provided the committee, making sense of it is a pretty high hurdle. There are no standards and therefore, the data inputs are inequitable and un-auditable. What his office has found is that the definition of a day varies greatly. Some schools require students to be there 75 percent of the day; others count you present if you are there for homeroom and then leave. Naturally, students are going to perform better if they are actually in class but the formula encourages schools to simply count as many kids as they can.

The “at-risk” portion of the formula takes into account students who receive free or reduced lunch. This is an outdated model. This data is not auditable, and again the system rewards schools for inflating their numbers by simply signing kids up. Pickering noted an example of a teacher who contacted his office because she was required to add kids to this program even without the parents’ consent. And if you know you’re going to get more money, why would you not sign every kid up?
Pickering mentioned other methods for tracking at-risk students such as percentage of those on CHIP/ other public assistance, teen pregnancies, poverty level, etc.
Basically, numbers that you can look at and verify to be true.

Pickering also dove into other issues that will make you shake your head. Some schools they have audited aren’t using textbooks, but workbooks provided by the Department of Education that teach to the tests. Across the board, audits showed a trend of non-compliance and of not providing the necessary materials to students. And we wonder why we’re so far behind? His office also found no oversight in a district’s transportation plan as they are no longer required to send their plans to the Department of Education for review and approval based on efficiency, non-duplication, and safety issues before funding is provided.

The list goes on and on. But one thing you will not find in the MAEP – a word about performance.

There has been an interesting response to Pickering’s presentation and recommendations. At the committee meeting, Democratic Reps. George Flaggs and Billy Broomfield both reacted positively, as did Cecil Brown in comments to the press. MDE Interim Superintendent Lynn House also gave a pretty tame response. We will see what if any changes come about because of this but it is a good thing we are finally talking about it. With over $.60 of every tax dollar on the line, school districts need to get inputs standardized and verifiable so that someone can protect the taxpayers’ interests.