Mississippi schools have been underfunded by more than $1.2-billion in the last 6 years. The failure of our Legislature to provide our children adequate school funding has denied them access to the high quality education afforded children who reside in states that invest well in their schools. Here’s what our children could get with adequate school funding…
More Advanced Placement offerings $44,200,000
Basic funding is necessary to purchase updated textbooks in sufficient quantities. At present, many schools – including relatively affluent districts such as Madison – do not have enough textbooks for each student to have his own, so students are not allowed to take textbooks home to study or to do their homework. Many textbooks are out-of-date, such as history textbooks still referencing the Berlin Wall or the USSR. An additional investment of $34,300,000 will allow the purchase of one textbook per student for 70% of the students currently enrolled in Mississippi public schools.
Safer buses, shorter routes $7,770,000
Increased funding will make it possible for districts to regain some of the ground they have lost in transportation services. Budget cuts have forced districts to use relatively unsafe, aging buses and to stretch bus routes to a point that some children board buses at 5:45 a.m. and do not return home until after 4:30 p.m. Newer, safer buses will protect children while they are being transported to and from school and more buses/shorter routes will make their school days more productive. An additional investment of $7,770,000 will allow 75% of Mississippi school districts (111 districts) to purchase one new school bus.
Building repairs and maintenance $20,000,000
Because the state has not funded the building maintenance fund, school districts have had to use significant portions of their MAEP funding in order to repair and maintain their infrastructure. This has exacerbated the MAEP shortfall. The Mississippi Legislature should begin immediately to honor its statutory obligation to provide $20,000,000 annually to the state’s building fund, though this amount will not begin to cover the real cost of providing our children decent facilities in which to learn. Therefore, the Legislature should direct the State Auditor to conduct a thorough assessment of facilities maintenance and repair needs in each school district and report to the Legislature, no later than January 1, 2015, the investment that will be required to bring all school facilities to an acceptable standard.
Expanded foreign language offerings $5,000,000
Improved MAEP funding will allow districts to remove the current budget-imposed limits to foreign language curricula and to provide the second, third, or fourth year of language that some colleges require for admission or for particular majors. Without a full course load of foreign languages available, Mississippi students are at a disadvantage when competing for college scholarships with students from other states where foreign languages are offered in complete, three- to four-year programs. An additional investment of $5,000,000 will allow the addition of one foreign language teacher in two-thirds of Mississippi school districts (100 districts).
Smaller class size, more individual attention for students $50,000,000
Returning to a more reasonable class size will give teachers time to focus more individual attention on students. Class size has crept upward over the last few years due to cuts in school funding that led to teacher layoffs and unfilled positions. Many schools report physics and calculus classes with 33-35 students or kindergarten classes with more than 30 children. With fewer students assigned to each teacher, teachers will be better able to do more detailed data analysis, track students’ progress, and adjust instruction to address each student’s deficiencies. Large numbers in a classroom make this kind of individualized instruction virtually impossible to achieve and sustain. An investment of $50,000,000 will be required to replace the 1,000 teachers lost due to budget cuts since the 2007-2008 school year.
Reading coaches and training to improve literacy $8,085,000
With adequate funding, districts can direct more resources to literacy programs and provide crucial supports to help reading coaches and literacy initiatives succeed. MAEP dollars can extend the reach of the state funding allocated to the “Third Grade Gate” portion of the “Education Works” agenda, giving schools more of the resources they will need to be effective in identifying reading challenges earlier. An additional investment of $8,085,000 will provide 75 reading coaches to cover 173 schools, 3 regional supervisors, and intensive training for principals, coaches, and interventionists in the lowest performing 25% of schools.
Tutorial and intervention programs for struggling students $123,000,000
The state’s new accountability model places additional emphasis on students scoring in the bottom 25% in the district on state tests. Districts will be penalized severely if they do not generate appropriate growth among those students. Thus far, no funding has been provided for that effort. Chronic underfunding of schools in recent years has caused a reduction in intervention programs designed to address this subgroup of students. Interventionists, an integral part of the literacy initiative, will work closely with reading coaches to provide intensive remediation for struggling readers in addition to addressing students’ deficiencies in other subject areas. An investment of $123,000,000 will provide one tutor/interventionist per 50 students for the lowest-scoring 25% of Mississippi children. This is a resource-intensive but high-reward effort that must be funded if Mississippi is to advance academically.
More focused, in-depth professional development for teachers $3,300,000
The most important factor in student achievement is the classroom teacher. When teaching practice improves, student achievement improves. Mississippi school districts have reduced significantly or eliminated professional development for teachers due to underfunding. An investment of $100 per teacher will allow districts to provide deeper, more meaningful professional development particularly focused on raising teachers’ skill levels related to Common Core.
Field trips and enrichment activities $2,450,000
Many Mississippi children graduate from high school never having left the counties in which they reside. They have no idea of the opportunities that are available to them outside of the county, which further limits their perspective as well as their motivation. An investment of $5 per student would give children, particularly in low-income districts, more occasions to see and experience the world beyond their own communities.
Extended day, extended year $145,517,000
Top performing charter schools and high performing countries have their students in class, on average, a minimum of 1,800 hours per year (9 hours per day, 200 days per year). This is 43% more time in school than students in traditional Mississippi schools (1,260 hours or 7 hours per day, 180 days per year). An additional investment of $145,517,000 would allow the bottom 25% of Mississippi schools to increase instructional time by 43%, bringing time on task in these schools more in line with what students experience in top performing charters and in schools in top performing countries.
Total funding required to provide all services listed $443,037,697
Significant improvement in national achievement rankings will be attained only when all Mississippi children have access to a broad selection of rigorous and rich course offerings; highly-effective, well-trained teachers; and reasonable class sizes that afford them the individualized instruction they require. Adequate funding is essential to this process.