There’s no doubt that charter schools are the hot topic leading up to the 2013 legislative session. The stories are piling up and the main players – Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn – have expressed their intentions on this issue with great fervor.

But Charter Schools are not the only education reforms Mississippi needs to consider.

Governor Bryant released his education agenda Wednesday which included charter schools but also calling for a performance based pay proposal for teachers once again. Bryant wants the measure implemented first in a four county pilot program.

The plan should receive more than a wink and a nod from lawmakers. Accountability measures must be put in place to ensure that public school students are receiving not just an adequate education (why that term is even used is beyond me given its connotation) but rather a superior education. Legislators and taxpayers should see this as getting a better rate of return on our investment.

Bryant also recommended:

– Increasing college entry standards for teachers and offering scholarships for those going into the profession with a high GPA and ACT score.
– $15 million for an early intervention reading program
– $3 million for the Building Blocks Program reaching into daycares
– $6 million for Teach for America
– Focus on graduation rates and if a district falls below 80% a plan of action must be submitted

Bryant’s proposals appear achievable but other avenues must also be explored as we go forward.

An innovative plan needs to be put in place to encourage small, struggling districts to merge or consolidate resources with neighboring districts, ultimately making better use of the tax dollars in play and decreasing unnecessary redundancy. Perhaps some form of incentive measures could be proposed for those districts that, of their own making, choose to share their burdens.

The bills filed annually to make all superintendents appointed and all school board members elected should soar through both chambers’ committees, but they won’t. Egos and fiefdoms always get in the way. Directly connecting the board to the public and allowing school administrators to focus on educating students instead of working a political angle to get reelected just makes too much sense.

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 an unreasonable 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. (If that sounds familiar, I’ve spoken of this before on here.)

If you have other ideas and thoughts, let your state Legislator know or contact the Governor’s office.

Education reform in Mississippi should be student focused and results driven, producing the best return on investment by the taxpayers both in terms of financial and human capital. Our potential is great; we just have to implement the means to greater achievement.