toren ballard

By Toren Ballard, Director of K-12 Policy and
Micayla Tatum, Director of Early Childhood Policy


An historic rewrite of Mississippi’s school funding formula and the subsequent allocation of record amounts of public education funding headlined an eventful inaugural session for Mississippi legislators elected this past November. The 2024 legislative session will also be remembered for lawmakers asserting authority over the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and setting funding policies for the public pension plan that are likely to spur additional conversations on the future of PERS benefits. School funding and PERS rightly dominated the headlines in 2024, but it was also a busy session for Mississippi’s educator pipeline, K-12 schools, and early childhood generally. In this post, we will recap the major wins (and losses) for school finance, PERS, the educator pipeline, public and private school choice, and other education legislation.

School Finance

As of July 1, 2024, the Mississippi Student Funding Formula (MSFF) has replaced the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) as the mechanism for allocating state funds for public schools. The bill’s passage brought two significant changes: a record amount of public education funding and a far more equitable distribution of that funding. After over a decade of underfunding MAEP, legislators unified behind MSFF to the tune of $2,958,652,725—an increase of over $200 million from the previous year. Even more significantly, MSFF will allocate this funding with a series of “weights” for low-income students, English-language learners, and other high-need student groups to ensure that the state is directing resources on the basis of student need (this was notably not the case under MAEP, as we have previously demonstrated). The result is that, while overall education spending will hit a record in 2024-2025, the effect will be even more transformative in individual districts like Jackson Public Schools that have a large proportion of low-income students.

The legislature came exceptionally close to not passing school funding reform this year, and the eventual passage of the MSFF may prove to be a useful case study for advocates going forward. The weighted student funding concept that is central to the MSFF was first introduced under House Bill 1453 as the “INSPIRE Act.” INSPIRE twice passed the House with large, bipartisan margins (first under HB 1453, then under an amended version of SB 2332), but met resistance in the Senate, which initially was championing its own proposal to retain and revise MAEP to reduce the cost of fully funding that formula. With HB 1453 and SB 2332 dead, and with a week left in the legislative session, the House reached a last-minute compromise with the Senate that kept the INSPIRE proposal largely intact but inserted a formula for determining the base student amount in future years. The result, as passed under House Bill 4130, is the Mississippi Student Funding Formula.


In addition to school funding reform, 2024 will be remembered as the year that the legislature fundamentally redefined its relationship with the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) by asserting policy making power over the PERS Board of Trustees. For well over a year before the 2024 legislative session, the legislature and the PERS Board had been in a standoff over the employer contribution rate. Contributions by employers of PERS members (primarily school districts, state agencies, and municipalities) are a key source of funding for the defined-benefit pension that PERS manages, and—in response to perceived concerns over the long-term fiscal health of the pension plan— the PERS Board of Trustees voted in August 2023 to increase the employer contribution rate by two percentage points each year until the rate “reaches the amount recommended by the actuary and approved by the board” (the PERS Board had previously voted for a similar increase in December 2022, but then voted to delay action until 2024 in response to legislative threats to rescind the increase during the 2023 session). The first increase, from the current rate of 17.4% to 19.4%, had been slated to go into effect on July 1, 2024—an increase that was estimated to cost the state an additional $60 million in FY25 (this estimate did not account for additional expenditures for counties and municipalities). 

In the months leading up to the 2024 legislative session, and throughout much of the session itself, lawmakers signaled opposition to the planned increase but failed to unify around a legislative response. The House and the Senate each passed bills to rescind the planned increase, but they differed in how to approach the legislature’s relationship with the PERS Board going forward—though each chamber signaled a desire to bend the will of the board to the legislature. In early March, the House passed House Bill 1590, which would have reconstituted the PERS Board of Trustees to replace most elected members with political appointees (currently, the board is composed primarily of PERS members and retirees who are elected by other members and retirees). The Senate proceeded to let HB 1590 die in committee and instead amended House Bill 1618 to require that any major policy changes (such as increasing the employer contribution rate) by the PERS Board be approved by the legislature—significantly reducing the decision-making power of the PERS Board but keeping it intact. Though it is unclear what the sticking points were, HB 1618 ultimately died in conference.

With a week left in the legislative session, lawmakers found their solution. Introduced in committee on April 26 and passed by both chambers within the next 24 hours, Senate Bill 3231 will increase the employer contribution rate by 2.5% over five years, starting with a 0.5% increase on July 1, 2024—essentially a reduction of the planned increase by the PERS Board (rather than rescinding it entirely). SB 3231 will also require the legislature to approve any major policy changes by the PERS Board of Trustees going forward. The PERS Board will only be authorized to make a “recommendation” to the legislature on adjustments to the employer contribution, and any recommendation must be accompanied by at least two independent actuarial assessments. Finally, SB 3231 states that “it is the intent of the legislature” to create a new retirement tier for new PERS employees during the 2025 legislative session—potentially in line with a non-binding recommendation passed by the PERS Board in October 2023 that would eliminate the guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment for future members once they retire.

SB 3231 represents a turning point in Mississippi’s approach to governing its public pension plan, though it is difficult to discern exactly what will happen next. The only things we know for sure are that (1) current PERS members and retirees will not lose benefits, (2) it will become progressively more expensive to employ public school teachers and other government workers over the next five years, and (3) any future decisions will be the prerogative of the legislature rather than the PRES Board. Between the increase in employer contributions and an appropriation of $110 million to PERS (Senate Bill 2468), one might expect this infusion of cash to assuage concerns about the fiscal health of PERS. But the intent to create a new retirement tier for new PERS employees (i.e., cutting benefits for future hires) suggests that the legislature does not consider the problem solved. If this is the case, we expect a proposal to cut benefits for future PERS members (which includes future public school teachers) during the 2025 legislative session.

Educator Pipeline

The 2024 legislature did not boost compensation for public school teachers in Mississippi, meaning that teachers have not seen a scale increase (other than any scheduled step increases for which they were eligible) since the record 2022 teacher pay raise—despite the fact that the average salary adjusted for inflation is now lower than any point in the 21st century. However, this was not for a lack of trying: lawmakers introduced bills to implement a stipend for teachers in critical shortage areas (House Bill 1702), reduce health insurance premiums for employees on the State Health Plan (House Bill 1694), and provide a $4,000 across-the-board raise (House Bill 1566). These were all policy recommendations made by Mississippi First in our 2023 report Falling Behind: Teacher Compensation and the Race Against Inflation, though each ultimately died in committee.

Fortunately, teachers with student debt may see some relief thanks to the successful passage of our fourth Falling Behind policy recommendation: House Bill 765 will expand eligibility for the Winter-Reed Teacher Loan Repayment Program to include teachers regardless of years of experience or pathway into the profession, as well as remove the cap on annual awards for the program and extend its repealer to 2028 (identical language was also included in House Bill 1672 and Senate Bill 2673, each of which died in committee). Enacted in 2021, the Winter-Reed program provides up to $15,000 in loan repayment assistance over three years to teachers in critical shortage areas (up to $7,500 for teachers in other districts), but it is currently only available to first-year teachers who were certified via the traditional route, and it is also only limited to 150 new recipients each year. HB 765 removes these restrictions, expanding the number of potential applicants eligible for a great incentive to teach in Mississippi.

HB 765 will also reenact the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act of 1998, extending its repealer from July 1, 2024, to July 1, 2027. The Act includes a series of incentives for teachers to teach in critical shortage areas, including moving expense and mileage reimbursements, scholarships to pursue a Master of Education or Education Specialist Degree, a forgivable home loan program, and a pilot program to construct rental housing units in the West Tallahatchie School District. However, while these incentives are well intentioned, a recent data request to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) revealed that very few educators have been participating. According to data provided by MDE, in 2023, 23 teachers were approved for the home loan program and four teachers received reimbursements for moving expenses. There was no other participation. We would encourage the legislature and MDE to examine how to maximize the impact of the Critical Teacher Shortage Act (MDE indicated that the scholarship program had run out of funding, but it was unclear why participation in the other programs was so low or nonexistent). In the meantime, we do not expect the extension of this program to meaningfully affect Mississippi’s educator pipeline.

In addition to expansion of the Winter-Reed program, critical shortage districts will have another avenue to attract educators to fill vacancies: Senate Bill 3231 includes a provision (in addition to the major changes to PERS discussed above) that will authorize retired teachers to work in a critical shortage district (or teach a critical shortage subject in any district) for a reduced salary while receiving full retirement benefits from PERS. Starting in the 2024-2025 school year, districts can hire retirees with at least 25 years of experience who were employed as a teacher at the time of their retirement, have been retired for at least 90 days, and hold a standard teaching license in Mississippi. Districts can pay these retired teachers up to 125% of the salary they would have earned if they were not retired, though 50% of this salary would be diverted as an employee contribution to PERS. It remains to be seen whether districts will offer to pay inflated salaries to hire retirees, or whether retirees will be willing to accept the resulting deflated salary after the 50% PERS contribution. However, if districts and retirees do take advantage of this option, it may help reduce teacher vacancies across Mississippi.

Private School Choice

Supporters of private school choice had high hopes going into the 2024 legislative session, but emerged with very few wins. As introduced, House Bill 1449 would have established a universal educational scholarship account (ESA) to provide state funding for all Mississippi students attending private school or homeschool (we estimated this would have cost at least $200 million annually once fully phased in), but the bill was reduced to an ESA study committee in the House Education Committee and then died on the House calendar without a vote. The House did pass House Bill 1988, which would have expanded the Children’s Promise Act to allow for additional tax credits in return for donations to Eligible Charitable Organizations (which include private schools), but HB 1988 ran into opposition in the Senate and ultimately died in conference. The only tangible win for private school choice was successful passage of House Bill 1229, which extended the repealer on the existing Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, a limited ESA program that currently serves 381 special needs students.

Public Choice and Public Charter Schools

Supporters of public school choice scored a single win with successful passage of House Bill 1341, which will allow somewhat greater flexibility for children in military families to transfer into public school districts of their choice. There was a slew of more expansive “open enrollment” bills to ease the process of transferring between public school districts (including House Bill 867, Senate Bill 2234, and Senate Bill 2691), but each of these ultimately died. Other notable public school choice bills that died include House Bill 1192, which initially would have allowed for statewide “virtual public school programs” run by local districts (the bill was reduced to soliciting a report on virtual schools from MDE before dying in conference), and House Bill 1683, which, as introduced, would have made a number of technical and substantive modifications to the Charter Schools Act of 2013.

Other K-12 Legislation

A major bill to scrap existing end-of-course subject area tests and replace them with the ACT (Senate Bill 2689) ultimately died in conference, but lawmakers passed another notable accountability bill: House Bill 1696 will revise provisions relating to the state takeover of struggling school districts by abolishing the Mississippi Recovery School District and Mississippi Achievement School District and clarifying the pathway for the State Board of Education to take corrective action in school districts.

A handful of other bills could lead to slight changes in curriculum and instruction across Mississippi schools. Senate Bill 2339 will direct the State Board of Education to develop a curriculum for a course in sign language, as well as allow such a course to count as a foreign language credit. Senate Bill 2681 will expand the definition of professionals who can be licensed as dyslexia therapists, potentially increasing the pool of dyslexia therapists in public schools. And finally, Senate Bill 2695 will require all public high schools to offer a driver education and training program, as well as require first-time driver’s license applicants to complete the program in order to obtain a license.

Early Childhood Education

The legislature increased its appropriation to the state’s early learning collaboratives by $5M. The appropriation is now $29M for the state’s early learning collaboratives. This increased appropriation will expand the program to more children as well as increase the per-pupil funding rate to account for increased costs following inflation. 

The legislature also slightly increased the budget for pre-K coaches from its 2022 funding level. However, these increases do not keep up with the general expansion of the program. Pre-K coaches, who struggle with large caseloads, face increasingly unsustainable workloads. In 2025, the legislature will need to consider additional funding for pre-K coaches. 

Additionally, HB 1669 expanded the qualifications for assistant teachers in the collaboratives. Many collaboratives reported struggling to fill assistant teacher positions because the original law required collaborative assistants to have an associate’s degree. This amendment does not change Mississippi’s status as 1 of only 5 states meeting all ten of the National Institute of Early Education Research’s (NIEER) benchmarks for high-quality pre-K because the original law exceeded the benchmark.

The legislature funded the State Invested Pre-K Program (SIP) for its third year. SIP was created in 2022 with the insertion of a legislative intent paragraph into the Department of Education’s budget. As a result, the program lacks legislative and quality guardrails. Read more about our position, including why we believe the 2025 legislature will need to act, here.

Our Final Thoughts

The 2024 legislative session was among the most consequential sessions for public education in the 21st century. We are enormously grateful and proud of the work we did this session, and we are hopeful that children will see some immediate benefits in their classrooms.

Our work could not be done without the many public education champions we work with each year–even when we disagree, we are grateful for the opportunity to work together to find solutions. Governor Reeves, Lt. Governor Hosemann, Speaker Jason White, Chairman Roberson, Chairman DeBar, Representative McCarty, Representative Owen, Senator Blount, Senator Hickman, Senator Simmons, Education Advisors Eileen Beazley and Leah Smith, Education Advisor Chole Butler, and MDE Advisor Holly Spivey, we thank you for your dedication to Mississippi’s children.

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