Improving public education in Mississippi has strong support from the business community, which has rallied to promote adequate resources for schools by advocating full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), the state formula used to establish adequate current operation funding levels necessary for the programs of each school district to meet a successful level of student performance as established by the State Board of Education.
MAEP doesn’t just throw money at the problems, but establishes accountability standards to improve educational outcomes.
“The accountability measures we have adopted and those we propose will clearly have positive results on outcomes,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, chairman of the Mississippi House Education Committee. “We have initiated a series of steps to improve performance over the past few years, and they are all interrelated. It is difficult, if not impossible, to isolate one. However, test scores are improving, albeit slowly. Graduation rates are rising, again slowly.”
Brown said it is important to note that MAEP has only been fully funded the past couple of years. It takes some time for smaller class sizes, improved teacher continuing education and a focus on drop outs to show up.
“It is not like giving someone a decadron shot and expecting immediate relief,” Brown said. “Improving performance is a slow process. But I am convinced by my visits to the schools that they are improving.”
There have been major concerns about the impact of the slow economy on school budgets. Most districts have some reserves that can be tapped to avoid cuts in programs and adverse effects to the learning environment.
“But if it goes on for several years, they will definitely be negatively impacted,” Brown said. “All of the school boards and superintendents have been warned by the State Department of Education to expect some lean times. I am sure they will do what they can to minimize the impact on student outcomes.”
Dr. Hank Bounds, superintendent of education, Mississippi Department of Education, said consistent full funding of MAEP is needed to help local school districts plan strategically for long-term needs.
“Fully funding MAEP is a key component of improving public education in the state, especially during these difficult economic times,” Bounds said. “There are concerns that budgets will be cut, but superintendents and school boards work hard to ensure that resources are used for maximum benefit in the classroom.”
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has adopted a proposed budget for fiscal 2010 that includes full funding of MAEP.
Bounds said if funding levels are adequate for all schools, then attention can be focused on other areas to improve the overall learning experience of state students.
The State Board of Education has named three goals to achieve by the year 2020:
1. Reduce the dropout rate to 13 percent by 2013.
2. Reach the national average on national assessments by 2013.
3. Ensure that all students exit Third Grade reading on grade level by 2020.
Five strategies have been adopted to accomplish those goals. One, increase the rigor of the curriculum and assessment system. Two, increase the quantity and quality of teachers. Three, increase the quantity and quality of administrators. Four, create a culture in Mississippi that understands the value of education. And five, redesign education for the 21st Century workforce in Mississippi.
“The State Board of Education has set and prioritized some really bold goals and the continued funding of MAEP will provide the resources necessary to implement strategies and achieve goals,” Bounds said.
Improvements have been seen on the state dropout rate, which is one of the highest in the country with approximately 39 percent of students not finishing high school. Bounds said progress is being made as reflected by the most recent data now from the Class of 2007.
“The benefits from our On the Bus campaign (one year old) will be evident in the years to come,” Bounds said. “There has been a massive charge to reduce the dropout rate in Mississippi. Legislative leaders, community leaders, business leaders and educational leaders have formed a grass-root effort to reduce the dropout rate and the support has been overwhelming. Everyone is working together to find solutions to this issue and having the Destination Graduation Teen and Adult Summits served as the catalyst.”
More efforts are being made to lift up underperforming schools. The Legislative Task Force on Underperforming Schools and Districts studied this issue extensively over the summer and fall and developed 14 recommendations that will be introduced as The Children First Act of 2009. The task force recommendations span several aspects of school management, including accountability, leadership, teaching, funding, community involvement and takeover regulations to help these schools succeed.
“The task force found that the major difference between low-performing and high-performing schools is leadership,” Bounds said. “One of the more important recommendations is that superintendents and board members be viewed as the leadership team and therefore, should face the same consequences, from additional training to removal from office when their schools are not successful.”
More information on The Children First Act of 2009 can be found at the we site at www.mde.k12.ms.us.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.