The Neshoba County Fair made one thing crystal clear to political observers in Mississippi – education will be the number one topic heading into January 2013 and the start of the next legislative session.
Lt. Governor Tate Reeves was the first to tackle the topic under the Founder’s Square pavilion, putting opponents of educational reforms on notice that he and his Senate leadership team were coming in full force.
He had strong words for those who would seek to hold education reform hostage. “I have a message for people in both parties who are scared of the future of education reform: buckle your seat belts,” said Reeves. “Reform is coming to Mississippi.”
Reeves went on to say, “Some of our education leaders are more worried these grades could embarrass principals or administrators… But I’m more worried about the opportunities for our children than bad P.R. for the adults.”
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn addressed the Neshoba faithful on day two of political speaking reiterating his support for charter schools and committing to seeing it through the Mississippi House next session, something that failed in his chamber by a handful of votes in the 2012 session mainly over concerns from DeSoto County representatives regarding charter schools’ impact in successful school districts.
Governor Phil Bryant also used a portion of his Neshoba speech to push education reforms, mainly performance based teacher pay and charter schools, both platform issues from his gubernatorial campaign.
That education train left Neshoba and headed to Jackson this week with Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush joining Bryant at a forum centered on improving the Magnolia State’s public education system.
Bush joined Bryant, Reeves and Gunn in supporting the education reforms being touted stating at one point that Mississippi must first fund the reforms or they will never come about, a statement that most likely made educational reform opponents very nervous.
And while charter schools and performance based teacher pay are drawing much of the attention, other educational reforms must be considered to aid in the all around push for change that will produce positive results for students.
Requiring all school boards to be elected and all superintendents to be appointed will directly connect the board to the public and allow school administrators to focus on educating students instead of working a political angle to get reelected.
Restricting state funding from school districts that are not charging an adequate millage rate to fund its own activities is a must. If a community values public education, that community should first seek to fund itself as best as possible before looking to the state for a handout. And while I am not a proponent of raising taxes, school districts that live off the state because they can flaunt a low local millage rate are draining Mississippi’s education funds to save face with their neighbor. Establishing some minimum criteria to qualify for state funds would be a start. The current system is nothing more than redistribution of resources, and an effort to hold these school districts accountable in their use of both their local dollars and the state’s would be commendable.
There are myriad of reforms that could and should be considered; every suggestion and argument should be explored, no matter if it comes from a Republican or a Democrat, a parent, a teacher, a student, or a politician. Having an open, honest discussion is the only way to move education reform forward.
But at the end of the day, a decision will have to be made and someone will not be happy; that’s the nature of the beast. Those who seek solutions will be on the leading edge of helping Mississippi students and taxpayers see results. Such dialogue should not be a matter of protecting turf or holding tightly to the keys of the little kingdoms many have built for themselves.
If children are the motivation, no one can blame legislators for trying to improve the education system in Mississippi. No, every reform will not produce positive results, but neither will burying our heads in the sand and passing it on to the next generation.
Mississippi has done nothing for too long… now is the time to stand up and be counted alongside Governor Bryant, Lt. Governor Reeves, and Speaker Gunn.