Governor Bryant has announced his education agenda for the 2013 Legislative Session. The plan includes:
A reading initiative to improve literacy – The program calls for mandatory retention of children not reading on grade level by the end of third grade and for a similar “gate” in seventh grade; Governor Bryant is requesting $15 Million to fund literacy interventions and training Read more
Scholarships to recruit Mississippi’s highest performing students into teacher education – 100 scholarships for students with a 3.5 g.p.a. and a 28 ACT, graduates would be required to teach in Mississippi for five years
Requiring a minimum 3.0 g.p.a and a 21 ACT score for entry into teacher education programs
Merit pay bonuses for Mississippi’s high performing teachers – The program is being piloted in four school districts this year
State support of high quality early childhood education programs through Mississippi Building Blocks
Authorization of charter schools – The governor is calling for a “workable” charter school bill See The Parents’ Campaign’s position on charter schools
“Opportunity Scholarships” – Tax credits for businesses and individuals that donate to scholarships for private school tuition to allow low income students in low performing schools to attend private schools (sometimes referred to as neo-vouchers) What the research says
Open enrollment in public schools – Policy that would allow students to transfer from low performing schools to high performing schools where capacity allows
Dropout prevention initiative – Requires high schools with a graduation rate below 80% to submit an improvement plan to the Mississippi Department of Education
Overall, I am pleased that the governor appears to be focused on issues that will have a significant impact on Mississippi’s student achievement. The pre-k, literacy, teacher quality, and charter school initiatives show particular promise, though, as always, the devil will be in the details.
I am concerned that the tax credit “opportunity” scholarships proposed by the governor will suffer the same fate that identical proposals have suffered in other states. Too often, tax credit scholarship initiatives have been sold as a way to provide an outlet for low income children trapped in failing schools, but the final legislation has provided tax credits to fund tuition for more affluent children to attend private academies.
Tax credit scholarships have cost states like Georgia and Florida hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been used to improve public schools for all children – and for virtually no gain in student achievement. The research shows that the children who received the vouchers and attended private academies fared no better than their peers who remained in the traditional public schools.
Though The Parents’ Campaign strongly supports an initiative to ensure that students exit third grade reading on grade level, I am concerned that the plan proposed by Governor Bryant provides too few of the supports included in successful programs like Florida’s to have the intended effect. Research shows that retaining children without putting in place sufficient changes in core reading instruction and interventions has a negative effect: outcomes do not improve and the dropout rate increases. For too long we have tried to do education on the cheap – and we’ve gotten exactly what we’ve paid for. We must invest wisely in what has been proven to work in other states. The reading initiative has great promise, but if it isn’t done well, it could do more harm than good.