JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi could ditch a complex school funding formula that legislators have largely ignored since it became law a generation ago and replace it with a new plan that some lawmakers say is simpler to understand, under a bill headed to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

A bill with the new formula passed the 52-member state Senate on Saturday with three votes in opposition, a day after it passed the House 113-0. Republicans control both chambers.

The new plan, called the Mississippi Student Funding Formula, would replace the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) — a formula that legislators have fully funded only two years since it became law in 1997.

House and Senate leaders said the new plan would give school districts a boost in funding for students who can be more expensive to educate. For example, extra money would be calculated for students who live in poverty, those with special needs or dyslexia, those learning English as a second language, or those enrolled in gifted programs or career and technical education programs.

“It’s clear. It’s concise. It gets money to our districts to help our students,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar said.

Reeves has not taken a public stance on the new formula, which legislators first released Friday.

A senator in a black suit speaks at the podium, glasses in one hand
“It’s clear. It’s concise. It gets money to our districts to help our students,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar said as he explained the Mississippi Student Funding Formula on the Senate floor on Saturday, April 27, 2024. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan was instrumental in pushing MAEP into law. He said Saturday that legislative leaders should provide side-by-side comparisons of how much money school districts might receive under full funding of MAEP and full funding of the new formula, calculated over several years.

“In violation of the law year after year after year, this Legislature has refused to fund the basic funding formula,” Bryan said. “School districts don’t know how much money they’re going to get — not because of the existing formula. They don’t have any more security with the new formula.”

The Mississippi Student Funding Formula would put about $217 million more into schools for the coming year than legislators budgeted for MAEP this academic year — but this was one of the years MAEP was not fully funded. Legislators shortchanged MAEP by nearly $176 million this year, according to research by The Parents’ Campaign, a group that advocates for public schools.

Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune joined Bryan and Republican Sen. Kathy Chism of New Albany in voting against the bill Saturday. Hill said she has concerns about funding for students learning English as a second language. Hill said the U.S. border with Mexico is “wide open.”

“We have people pouring across the border from all over the world,” Hill said.

Emily Wagster Pettus is a Mississippi statehouse and political reporter at The Associated Press.