A major step was taken in Mississippi’s ongoing education reform efforts in the 2016 legislative session when lawmakers passed a bill requiring the appointment of all public school superintendents. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the legislation into law soon after its passage.
The next step along the path – and one that will present an even bigger hurdle for reform-minded lawmakers – is the requirement for all school boards to be elected.
House Education Chairman John Moore has consistently sought to move this discussion along in recent years, noting the need for direct public accountability, but the effort has been squashed for one reason or another.
Moore tells Y’all Politics that he plans to once again propose the measure and will bring it up in his committee during the 2017 session.
“The bill is being introduced for discussion this session,” Moore said.
State Sen. Brice Wiggins is open to the discussion in his chamber.
“The current laws regarding organization of school boards are antiquated and need a review,” Wiggins told Y’all Politics. “Having passed elected superintendents last year it would make sense to look at the boards.”
There is no mechanism by which the public or a school board can change the selection process for a local school district’s board members. It must come by way of action of the Legislature.
Moore, an advocate for the change, says one sticking point in the Legislature has been with “high rated school districts – A’s and B’s – who do not want their board structure to change,” pointing to the success of their districts. A compromise measure could be to only focus on C districts and below.
While this may be politically expedient, giving lawmakers an out, if you will, with the current A and B districts and the lobbying sure to ensue, this would appear to lack any reasonableness in terms of tangible accountability, transparency and local control for every Mississippian. Just because districts are rated high currently does not mean there are no real concerns over public accountability, communication, and proper representation.
Opponents often contend that appointed school board members take the politics out of education. It could be said, however, that there are more politics at play with appointed school boards than if they were elected.
Being from a high rated school district, I still contend that parents and voters deserve a say in their education system, especially given the huge role our school districts play in the life of our communities and the amount of public monies they are tasked with overseeing. The public’s choice for their school board shouldn’t be funneled through a city council or other local governing body. Our current system is akin to taxation with indirect representation, and it’s time the Legislature give voters the opportunity to determine whether they want a direct voice on our school boards across Mississippi.
The ballot box remains the only tangible means of effecting change in our American system of government. All appointed superintendents is a major step in the right direction, but it can be argued allowing the public to vote to elect their school board members instead of being politically appointed would be a huge leap forward in terms of accountability, transparency, and taxation with direct representation.
With Republicans well in control of the Legislature, giving their constituents the opportunity to have a direct voice in their local school boards who oversee our children’s futures and millions upon millions of our precious tax dollars would go a long way to promote the principles and values they campaign on every four years.
But given the interests at work against this measure, I’m not holding my breath.
This article has been updated to reflect new information.
Reference: Mississippi Code Title 37, Chapter 7 for composition of school boards.