The new year could mean a new infusion funds for some Mississippi schools if a lawsuit against the state is successful. 21 districts have banded together suing the state for years of underfunding their schools. Those districts are seeking more than 230-million dollars..
It's lunch time at Woodley Elementary in Hattiesburg where 93-percent of students receive free and reduced lunch.
Hattiesburg is one of the districts involved in the lawsuit against the state.
School principal Felecia Morris says a shortage of funds means she has to choose between fixing old floors and leaking roofs of her nearly 60-year-old building.
And with new common core standards she is having trouble buying enough books for her students.
"So we are having to pull other resources to maybe get half of the books. Where if we had more money we could get it all and fund the other projects we have. Not to mention class sizes and having more tutors," Morris said.
large Class sizes are one of the big things district leaders say is resulting from the shortfall.
School officials they are at their limit but the additional money could let them reduce that by adding more teachers.
Across town at Hawkins Elementary, 5-year-olds take a dance break.
Kindergarten teacher Teneka Hawkins says smaller classes would greatly improve the outcomes of her students.
"The children are so small and a lot of things that we do have to be so hands on. And it is kind of hard when it is more than 20 students. It is kind of manageable because we have two teachers, but 15 would be ideal. And I think we could reach more students with that smaller class size," Hawkins said.
District Superintendent James Bacchus says only because of the damage from a recent tornado have they been able to make much-needed repairs and there are few places left for his district to cut.
"To the point where we feel that if we cut anymore it would certainly affect the initiation of various programs that we value. And that we see giving a lift in support around our children," Bacchus said.
State education funding is supposed to be set by a formula known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or M-A-E-P.
But for years, lawmakers have decided to short fund the formula and some districts now say they have had enough.
This district alone would be in line for a more than 12-million dollar infusion if the lawsuit is successful.
That's nearly one this of their annual budget.
Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, who helped designed the funding formula, is leading the lawsuit which would also require lawmakers to fully fund it.
"Our objective is to get as much money as possible back to every school district. We want to once again make education a priority in Mississippi," Musgrove said.
Prior to this suit, Mississippi was one of just five states never to be sued over education spending.
The suit irritates the state's Republican leadership including Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, who dismisses it as a cash grab by Musgrove.
"I think that the lawsuit gives former governor Musgrove the opportunity to make hundreds of millions of dollars. And I don't think that is in the best interest of Mississippi school children," Reeves said.
Conservatives are also wary of putting the courts in charge of an education spending budget that already consumes nearly half of all revenue.
Even the Democratic Attorney General has asked for the suit to be tossed.
But Boris Vaughn, a parent in Hattiesburg, wants the lawsuit to go forward, saying he is concerned even his straight-A daughter is falling behind.
"I think sue the state. If the state ain't doing everything for you. Sue them," Vaughn said.
Molly Hunter, is with the Education Law Center in New Jersey, which tracks education spending lawsuits.
She says the lawsuit can help, but more money doesn’t guarantee better education.
"I don't know of anyone who says just throw money at it. I think that the money has to be spent in an effective way. But there are lots of effective ways to spend it," Hunter said.
If a judge rules in favor of the schools, state lawmakers could be required to immediately find hundreds of millions of new education spending in a very short time frame.
Below is a list of how much every district in the state is short due to underfunding of MAEP: