Numerous bills have been filed that address school funding, open enrollment (crossing district lines), vouchers, charter schools, school standards, and how school boards are selected. Most of these bills have not yet been taken up in committee, but this is a heads-up just in case they make it out of committee and onto the calendar for a floor vote. If so, your help will be needed to get them amended or defeated to ensure that our children’s education is protected.
Each of these bills addressing school funding will have a negative impact on at least some school districts:
HB 76 essentially nullifies the Mississippi Adequate Education Program by removing the state’s obligation to provide adequate funding for public schools.
HB 54, HB 79, and HB 91 reduce or remove a school district’s authority to increase local funding for schools, and some create a situation in which county and city taxing authorities would have undue influence over school districts. (This sort of abuse occurred prior to school districts being granted minor taxing authority and is the reason the statute is written as it is.)
HB 1417 and SB 2045 create a one-size-fits-all approach to school district budgeting and expenditures, diminishing the ability of school districts to meet the needs of students in their communities and redefining “direct classroom expenditures” in a way that omits important instructional supports.
Each of these bills funnels public money to private schools through a voucher, a “scholarship,” a tax credit, or an “education savings account.” Vouchers divert funds from already underfunded public schools to private schools with no accountability, and they have proven to be ineffective in improving student achievement in states that have tried them.
Open Enrollment – Students Crossing District Lines
These bills allow students to cross district lines to attend school for various reasons. The common concern with these bills is that they do not allow the receiving district to accept or deny the students based upon the district’s capacity.
Receiving districts would likely not have enough classroom space or teachers to accommodate a large influx of students. Receiving districts would be forced to purchase modular classrooms (trailers) and hire teachers on short notice at a time when most top-tier teachers have signed contracts in other districts. This would negatively affect the quality of education provided to incoming and existing students in the receiving district.
The bills need to be amended to give full discretion to the receiving district.
HB 821 and SB 2619 allow students in any district to cross district lines to attend charter schools with funding to follow the child. The bills should be amended to allow students in D and F districts to cross district lines to attend a charter school.
SB 2363 allows a charter school for special needs students to be located in districts rated A, B, or C without local board approval. All charter schools should be limited to districts rated D or F. This bill also violates federal regulations addressing the “least restrictive environment” for children with special needs.
These bills attempt to halt or delay implementation of the Common Core State Standards and/or the state’s Longitudinal Data System, the system put in place to track the effectiveness of state-funded education programs. These bills would lower standards and diminish the quality of education provided Mississippi children.
HB 75 would decrease the number of days required in the instructional year. Any education expert will tell you that the two most important factors in student achievement are high quality teaching and time on task. Students in top-performing states and countries are getting as much as two and a half months more instruction than are Mississippi students under the current mandate of 180 days. Reducing the required number of days to 175 would worsen that gap and send the message to the rest of the world that Mississippi is not serious about education. Click here to read a Clarion-Ledger article about the House Education Committee’s debate on this bill.
These bills change the way school board members are selected in municipal school districts, requiring that they all be elected rather than being appointed by the mayor and city council. These bills will discourage school board service by professional, high quality candidates who are willing to serve but not willing to raise funds and wage a political campaign. The effect would likely be to diminish the quality of boards in municipal districts. Additionally, two of these bills would require a complete turnover of school boards at the time of the presidential election. This would leave districts with no historical knowledge or consistency.
In other states, for-profit interests from out of state have funneled large sums of money to hand-picked candidates in school board races who will vote to grant large contracts to donors’ companies and allow charter and virtual schools in their school districts. Mississippi is particularly susceptible to this kind of foul play because of the provision in our charter bill that allows boards in districts rated A, B, or C to veto or allow charter schools to locate there.