MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - A Pine Belt lawmaker wants ensure all Mississippi are impacted equally by a new public education funding formula the state is creating.
Sen. Joey Fillingane represents a wide range of voters in Covington, Forrest, Jefferson Davis, Lamar and Smith counties, and wants to ensure some aren't impacted by a new plan more than others.
"I do represent really interesting ends of the educational and socioeconomic spectrum within my district," Fillingane said. "I have a really high performing, wealthy district in Lamar County all the way to Jefferson Davis County where they don't have as much of a tax base, an ad valorem base, and the performance levels in those schools aren't quite the same as they would be in Lamar County. So I can sort of see from both perspectives. One concern that I do have as we're looking at the formula is the fairness and the equity. It's not fair for districts that tax and have a higher millage rate and are collecting taxes from their citizens for the specific purpose of raising educational attainment in their districts and supporting their schools to then have to have all of that money taken from them and sent to district that, for whatever reason, have not chosen to have a higher millage rate on their tax payers."
Filingane agrees Mississippi needs to funnel more money into classroom materials and teachers, but along with equity in classroom funding, he said lawmakers need to consider tax equity as well.
"We all agree on the goal, the question is do we get there by robbing Peter to pay Paul? That also assumes that there aren't as many tax payers in certain districts. There isn't as much industry in certain parts of our state as there are in others, and we understand that. So there is going to be some shifting of funding from richer areas and more developed area to poor and less developed areas, but, again, everyone has to have some skin in the game."
Fillingane said he would like to see a minimum property tax requirement for all counties if they want to benefit from state school dollars, so counties like Covington and Jefferson Davis would have to increase their rates.
"5,000 taxpayers ought to be paying in just like those 50,000 in the neighboring district ought to be paying in if we're all going to share in those proceeds and those tax dollars," he said.
As far how voters would react to a potential increase, Fillingane said people are often for funding education, but are more hesitant when increased means increased taxes.
"The real rubber meets the road though when you start talking about what is that going to cost?" Fillingane said. "What does that look like on my ad valorem tax bill or on my sales tax at the grocery store? Or on my income tax that the state sends out in April? Everyone is for it in theory, but then when you actually start talking about writing checks to the state, then people sometimes get a little less enthusiastic shall we say about wanting to write larger checks to accomplish that goal."
Fillingane said with so much money spent on education, he agrees the state needs to update its formula to focus on what's happening in a Mississippi classroom now.
"It's the most expensive thing we do in state government," Fillingane said. "We spend approximately 62 percent of our discretionary funds on education, so by far, it's the largest budget item that we have. Therefore, it's our highest priority, and it's what we spend the most dollars on. So we have to make sure we get that formula right. It's over 20 years old. It's way out of date. It's antiquated, and I think everyone would agree with that. It hasn't been funded fully in a really long time, and I think the reason for that is because we all understand that it's way outdated. I think the hope and the goal is that you get it reconfigured to a 2016 or 2017 version that we can all buy into, and therefore be more likely and more accepting of it so we can fund it each year fully."