What your district stands to lose in funding

How much will your district be shortchanged if the MAEP isn’t fully funded? A lot. Click here to see an estimate of what your district stands to gain if the MAEP is fully funded – and what it stands to lose if it isn’t.

The current appropriations bill under-funds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) by $201-million.

HB 1536 provides an increase in MAEP funding of $107-million over last year, about half of which will go to cover the second phase of the well-deserved pay raise for teachers and what we hope will be a pay raise for teacher assistants.

When you back out the total needed to cover the pay raises this year and last, schools will be left with MAEP funding that is below the 2008 pre-recession level, if the House proposal is adoptedThe state is not even providing enough funding to pay the cost of teacher salaries and benefits in almost half of our school districts. Nearly all of our districts spend 90 percent or more of their state MAEP funds on teacher salaries and benefits, with little to nothing left to cover other classroom costs. See how your district fares here.  

For years, the resources have been available to fully fund the MAEP, they have simply been spent elsewhere. A perfect example is that, this year, legislators claim not to have enough money to fully fund the MAEP while expressing great delight that there is plenty available for a tax cut. In fact, our leadership appears to be in a game of one-upmanship over who can decimate our state budget the most. Governor Bryant proposed eliminating $79-million, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves upped it to $400-million, and now, Speaker Philip Gunn is pushing a $1.3-billion reduction in General Fund revenue through elimination of the income tax. Never mind that public schools are under-funded by $257-million, roads and bridges are crumbling, children remain in abusive homes due to too few social workers at the Department of Human Services, Mississippians with mental illnesses are left to fend for themselves on the streets without proper care, and state services fall short in countless other ways that diminish the quality of life for Mississippians generally.

It is immoral, and it begs the question, “Where is our faith community?” In the heart of the Bible belt, where are our faith leaders? To remain silent while our leadership repeatedly throws children and “the least of these” under the proverbial bus is to be complicit. It is time for them to stand up and speak out for Mississippi’s most vulnerable citizens.

If our leadership is unconcerned about the plight of children in our state, perhaps they could be persuaded on the economic merits of a healthy investment where it really pays off. In recent years, legislators have given away hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, only to land us, for the first time ever, in the dead-last spot on Forbes’ Best States for Business rankings. The ranking shows that, despite a top-twenty “cost of doing business” rating, we dropped to 50th because of our leaders’ stubborn refusal to invest in a future workforce through public education. Is it any wonder that businesses don’t want to locate their employees here, given the way our leadership treats our children?

If legislators were at all serious about improving Mississippi, they would focus every available penny on educating the children who represent our state’s future. Sadly, for the majority, that is not the case.

 Literacy Test Concerns Misrepresented

In a bit of unusually poor reporting, some journalists have missed the boat entirely on their coverage of parents’, teachers’, and advocates’ concerns about the new high-stakes test that will be used as the sole determinate of whether Mississippi students pass or fail third grade. The concern is not that children who can’t read will be retained. Quite the opposite. The concern is that children who can read will be retained because, for any number of reasons, they miss the cut score on the one high-stakes assessment on which their promotion or retention will be based. Mississippi’s poorly-written law provides no allowances whatsoever for that scenario, unlike Florida’s statute, after which Mississippi’s was supposedly modeled.

While Florida tried out their assessment on third-graders for two years prior to implementing retentions, Mississippi’s high-stakes test will get no such trial run. It’s a brand-new assessment that is being designed just for our state – and it isn’t quite ready yet. Any bugs that may be found once it’s administered in April won’t matter. Students who don’t perform well will be retained. Period. No questions asked. The law says so.

Teachers have never seen it, so they can’t give the boys and girls in their classrooms a good idea of what to expect. The passing score can’t even be set until after the kids take it the first time; we have no baseline year. Add to that the fact that the test is online – third-graders will have to navigate a module they’ve never seen before – and that it’s timed, and that performance on this test will decide whether the child passes or fails third grade (no matter how well she’s performed all year), and you’ve got a high-stakes situation that would strike fear in the heart of any grown-up. Oh, they’ll get two more chances to try to pass the same test before time runs out in August, but that’s little consolation to the child who gets a stomach ache at the mere mention of the word “test.”

Florida doesn’t do it that way, and Mississippi shouldn’t either, despite what you might have read in a pretty nasty newspaper article. Florida’s law has a provision that gives the final say on retention or promotion to the teacher, principal and superintendent (in that order), so long as they can provide evidence that the student has made appropriate progress in reading. Read about Florida’s investment in reading here.

The notion that parents and teachers want “illiterate” third-graders to move on to fourth grade – or that teachers aren’t bothering to teach reading because they haven’t gotten everything they need from a recalcitrant legislature – is ludicrous and insulting to the scores of dedicated professionals who regularly work 60+-hour weeks, pay for their own professional development, and buy school supplies out of their own pockets to give the children in their classrooms every possible shot at a decent life. What teachers and parents want is for Mississippi third-graders to get a fair shake. Try the test out once before it’s the make-or-break deal for passing third grade. And give the professionals who have spent a year teaching and monitoring the progress of our children a wee bit of discretion in how those chips fall. No test is perfect, and no one test should be the sole determinate of a child’s ability to progress to fourth grade – especially not on its first-ever administration.

I urge legislators, journalists, and others who mistakenly believe that this whole discussion is about wanting to promote “illiterate” nine-year-olds to talk to third-grade teachers before the next legislative vote or the next newspaper story. Ask third-grade teachers what they’ve been doing the past two years to prepare children for the literacy initiative. Hear about their strategies and their extra hours spent analyzing each child’s reading data and designing specific interventions. Ask some questions of those who are in the trenches. You’ll be amazed at what you hear, and proud of the amazing work so many of our teachers are doing every day.

MDE Schedules Parent Meetings on Literacy

The Mississippi Department of Education has scheduled a number of meetings around the state to provide parents of kindergarten through third-grade students an overview of the Literacy-Based Promotion Act and to teach them strategies for helping their children improve reading skills. You can see the dates of those meetings here.

Qualifying Deadline this Friday

I have heard from so many of you who are disgusted with the laws being passed by this Legislature. The best way to change that is to change the folks making the laws. We need some good choices in the coming election, and time is running out to recruit candidates. For those of you willing to throw your hat in the ring, the qualifying deadline is this Friday, Feb. 27. You will need to file qualifying papers and pay a $15 qualifying fee at the appropriate party headquarters by 5:00 p.m. A legislative candidate running as an independent must file a petition signed by 50 qualified electors and pay the fee by the same deadline.

The good news is that voters are galvanized around public education like they haven’t been since 1983. The bad news is that elected officials are more hostile toward public education than we’ve seen them in decades – and it’s our kids who have the most to lose. If I know you, you won’t stand by while their futures are diminished. You’ve got what it takes to stick this one out and see it through – for a better day for your children and mine and thousands we will never know. What a blessing! 


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