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Supporting Mississippi Children First Act of 2009 a no-brainer

The Book of Luke tells us that for those to whom much is given, much is required.

As business leaders, we are given the opportunity to build a business through the American enterprise system. With this comes a responsibility to our workers, to our communities and to the future of our business to continue to build upon the human capital that is needed to keep the economic engine running at full steam.

Archimedes noted that with a lever long enough and a fulcrum strong enough, he could move the world.

In education, the government and its people serve as the lever and the business community and the American enterprise system are the fulcrum. Together we can make the real difference…and move the world for students who are counting on our commitment.

This is why the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), with over 7,000 members from 1,400 different organizations, has put education at the top of its priority list. We have consistently supported funding — but with that also comes a responsibility for stronger accountability and improved results.

Thanks to the leadership of Senate Education chair Videt Carmichael and House Education chair Cecil Brown, working closely with State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds and his team, a special 15-member task force on underperforming schools, created by the Legislature, has focused diligently over the last six months on an approach that will allow us to change the paradigm of underperformance in low performing school districts.

It takes leadership. It takes commitment. And it takes resources.

As part of our work, the task force visited a Level 5 top-performing school district in one of the most disadvantaged parts of our state. Despite limited resources, aging school buildings and a student base coming predominantly from families who live in poverty, we observed a school district that consistently achieves because of the leadership of its administration, the commitment of its faculty and parents and the wise use of resources.

We also visited an underperforming school district, with similar demographics — and saw a very different and troubling picture. Clearly there was an absence of leadership, a lack of commitment and a squandering of resources.

While we believe it is best for local people to govern local school districts, it also is apparent that when the system is broken, it takes significant outside intervention to assure a turnaround. The legislative task force, comprised of business, legislative, community and education leaders, under the leadership of the two legislative education chairs, has developed a series of recommendations to provide the kind of intervention necessary to get an underperforming district on track — and these recommendations have been incorporated into a legislative initiative for consideration in the new session.

The key recommendations of the Mississippi Children First Act of 2009 come directly from the work of the legislative task force on underperforming schools. They are:

• Requiring schools to be transparent and report everything from student achievement to finances to leadership through the local newspaper and district web site;

• Requiring the state to have a process and necessary funding for early intervention as school performance begins to decline;

• Requiring that superintendents prove the acquisition of knowledge and skills specific to the position by obtaining a superintendent’s license;

• Requiring all school districts to be audited by the State Auditor or a firm designated by the State Auditor at least once every four years;

• Requiring all school districts to have an education advisory council that works with all levels of education, from pre-kindergarten through higher education, that represents a broad spectrum of the community;

• Requiring the removal of the superintendent and all board members once a district is placed under conservatorship; and

• Requiring the establishment of the Mississippi Recovery School District, which will include all school districts under conservatorship and have its own superintendent.

The MEC board of directors strongly supports the Mississippi Children First Act of 2009. It is a common sense approach for assuring that we continue to build our human capital resources in Mississippi, which will provide our private sector economy the most basic tool it needs for growing and prospering: an educated and productive workforce.

Blake A. Wilson is president of the Mississippi Economic Council. Contact him at 601-969-0022.

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