Governor Barbour Signs Children First Act of 2009

This is a great day for Mississippi children!  Governor Barbour held a signing ceremony at the Capitol to celebrate his signing into law The Children First Act of 2009.  This landmark piece of legislation moves us a giant step toward ensuring that every Mississippi child has access to excellent public schools. 

Members of The Parents’ Campaign will surely want to join me in thanking Governor Barbour, Speaker of the House Billy McCoy, Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant, House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, and Senate Education Chairman Videt Carmichael for their leadership in crafting and promoting this important act.  We at The Parents’ Campaign are grateful, as well, to our members for their support of The Children First Act.

Now that the Act is passed, the real work begins, and we all have a role to play to see that every school leader has the support, the resources, and the will to provide the high quality school district that every child deserves.  We all should consider the roles that we might play in creating and supporting a rich learning environment in our communities.

Governor Barbour also announced today that Mississippi is one of four states to receive a $150,000 grant from the National Governors Association (NGA) to develop methods for improving chronically underperforming schools.  The grant is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and will help to support the initiatives included in The Children First Act of 2009.  Read the Mississippi Department of Education press release.  Read The Clarion Ledger’s article about the Children First Act.

The Children First Act provides the following:

(provided by the Mississippi Department of Education)

Section 2:

  • Requires students in sixth grade or above to maintain a 2.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale to participate in sports or extracurricular activities. The State Department of Education would monitor eligibility based on a semester grade reporting period. The suspension will remain in effect until the student’s grade point average in a succeeding semester is a 2.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale.

Section 3:

  • Defines a failing school district as a district that fails to meet both the absolute student achievement standards and the rate of annual growth expectations as set by the State Board of Education for two consecutive years. The State Board of Education to may use such factors as student assessment data, graduation rate, dropout rate and completion rate in setting benchmarks for absolute student achievement standards and the rate of annual growth expectations.
  • Requires a school district to publish an annual report in a local newspaper and on its web site by November 1. The State Board shall prescribe the contents of the report, a copy of which must also be made available at the district.
  • Adds a district’s underperformance for two consecutive full school years to the list of conditions when the State Board may declare an extreme emergency situation. This gives authority to the State Board to remove a superintendent and school board members and to abolish the district when the governor declares an extreme emergency (granted under Section 37-17-13).
  • Establishes within MDE the Mississippi Recovery School District under the supervision of a Deputy Superintendent of Education to provide leadership, management and oversight of all school districts under state conservatorship. The State Board shall develop policies for the operation of the Mississippi Recovery School District. The Deputy Superintendent of Education shall supervise conservators assigned to a school district and hear appeals from the districts under conservatorship that would normally be heard by local school boards.
  • Removes the $3 million cap on loans that may be made to the School District Emergency Assistance Fund in Section 37-17-6.

Section 4:

  • Requires that, beginning with fiscal year 2010 activity, the state auditor shall either conduct audits on districts every 4 years or approve the CPA firms to conduct the audits.
  • Requires that, beginning with audits of fiscal year 2010, no CPA firm that has audited a district for 3 or more consecutive years shall be selected to conduct that district’s audit.
  • Requires a district to pay for the audit including the review performed by the state auditor.
  • Requires conservators appointed to oversee school districts that have been taken over by the state to provide a detailed corrective action plan to move the school district out of conservatorship to the local superintendent (if they have not been removed by the conservator), the local school board, the local governing authority and the State Board of Education.

Section 5:

  • Requires local superintendents to undergo training with school board members when they are serving in a district with one or more underperforming schools.
  • Requires that, when a financial advisor is appointed to a school district, there is an automatic referral to the State Board of Public Accountancy if negligence has been suspected in an audit of that district.

 Section 6:

  • Requires underperforming districts to implement such training, programs and other requirements.
  • Requires MDE to provide technical assistance to districts not meeting adequate performance, subject to appropriations.

Section 7:

  • Requires the auditing of districts to comply with Section 7-7-211(e).
  • Requires the State Board of Public Accountancy to determine if disciplinary action needs to be taken in cases of negligence in audits and report negligence to the State Auditor in certain cases.

Section 8:

  • Provides that the Education Employment Procedures Law shall not apply to employees in districts where the Governor has declared a state of emergency (per Section 37-17-6(11).

Section 9:

  • Requires a school district that has been designated underperforming as defined by the State Board to establish a community-based Pre-K through higher education council.
  • Requires the council to include economic developers, elected officials, civic leaders, business leaders, faith-based leaders, parents, social services, nonprofit organizations, school attendance officers, law enforcement officials, health department officials, daycare providers, librarians, and others with knowledge and resources to build strong communities.
  • Requires the State Board to develop a procedure for appointing members of such council which cannot be appointed solely by the local school board.

Section 10:

  • Repeals Section 37-9-16, which provides for the removal of elected and appointed superintendents in certain circumstances, upon passage.

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