Meridian Star

Columns

March 17, 2013

Legislature has opportunity for landmark education reform

MERIDIAN — Gov. Phil Bryant laid out a bold education reform package for the Legislature calling this the “Education Session.”

    Both the Senate and House quickly took up the mantle by passing his Education Works Agenda establishing literacy standards for kindergarten through third-grade students, raising the requirements to enter a teaching program and improving graduation rates.

    Gov. Bryant, Speaker Philip Gunn and I have worked closely together to create the best foundation for changing the quality of education, and legislators are in the final stages of passing education reform.

    The Senate and House are close to an agreement allowing school choice for parents and students through public charter schools with one important difference: Deciding where the schools should be allowed to operate.

    The Senate and House agree school boards in A- and B-rated school districts can veto a public charter school application and deny giving parents educational choice. Both chambers agree public charter schools need only approval from the state authorizing board to operate in D- and F-rated districts.

    The primary difference is whether school boards in C-rated districts can block public charter schools in their community, in spite of parents’ demand for school choice.

    I have been asked why I believe strongly in allowing public charter schools in C-rated districts. The answer is simple: I believe Mississippi can do better than C.

    As leaders we should not send the message to students and school administrators that earning a C is acceptable. Our state must strive for above average academic achievement and raise expectations.

    It is a misnomer to consider C districts as successful, a label earned under the previous school rating system. Consider this:

• There are more students in failing schools in C districts than in F districts. There are 37,223 students in poor-performing schools in C districts compared with 27,203 students in failing schools in F districts.

    • There are no C-rated districts that have an ACT composite score that indicates college readiness.

    • The average student in a C-rated district in Mississippi will score lower than 65 percent of U.S. students in reading skills, according to the Global Report Card. The results are worse in math where the average student in a C-rated district will score 71 percent lower than U.S. students.  

    These statistics are not indicators of achievement. It is proof we still have work to do to make Mississippi’s workforce competitive.

    The Legislature has the chance to pass landmark education reform, the most significant since the Education Reform Act of 1982.  We can pull Mississippi off the bottom of academic performance nationwide. That means Mississippi’s workforce grows stronger. That means better jobs that pay higher salaries for future generations that will stay in Mississippi to raise their families.

    Again, the Governor and Legislature are working together on innovative ideas to strengthen the quality of education. We know the public is tired of excuses for not doing so. The Legislature needs to set goals that are aspirational but achievable. It’s time for real change.

    Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves can be contacted at ltgov@senate.ms.gov.

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