The politics around public education in Mississippi grow more and more absurd.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the current debate over the Literacy-Based Promotion Act of 2013, or the “third-grade reading gate.”
The current fight, astoundingly, is whether to flunk third-graders who can’t read well, per a 2013 law, or pass them on into fourth grade and wish them luck in their future endeavors.
How is this even a debate? We shouldn’t be socially promoting illiterate third-graders on to the fourth grade, laws and acts and partisan politics and the MAEP formula be hanged.
Superintendents and the education establishment shouldn’t be spending their energy lobbying lawmakers for a year’s delay. They should be thinking, “Stop everything — we have thousands of third-graders who can’t read. What can we do — right now — to address this?” At least give it a try before you concede failure.
And the Legislature shouldn’t be looking at tax cuts and other election-year lollipops before this is fully resolved and funded.
“Sorry we didn’t teach you to read, Johnny — we just weren’t ready this year. The mean old Legislature didn’t give us enough money, so we didn’t even want to try. Try not to drop out later. Hey, can you play football?”
The Literacy-Based Promotion Act of 2013, spearheaded by Gov. Phil Bryant, is one of the best education reforms passed in many years. It’s modeled after a 13-year-old Florida program that showed great success. Statistics show that students moving into fourth grade unable to read well are far more likely to repeat other grades and not graduate high school.
But Mississippi’s program is underfunded.
Of course it’s underfunded. Look around. Everything in Mississippi is underfunded.
That’s been the rallying cry — justifiably so, in most cases — around Mississippi’s public education system for decades, and it will continue to be for more. But it’s also become a crutch and a political football. And in this case, it’s a little more spurious than others.
Superintendents and lawmakers pushing to delay teaching third-graders to read before passing them to fourth point to Florida and have repeatedly said the Sunshine State has spent $ 1 billion on its program, while Mississippi is only spending $ 15 million.
Florida, which has nearly six times as many students as Mississippi, funded its program at $ 10 million the first year. But its schools shifted other money and resources around to help start it. Contrary to what has been said in legislative floor debate in Mississippi, Florida has never fully funded reading coaches for all its schools. It started the program by first focusing resources on the worst schools, as is the plan here.
For Mississippi to match, per capita, Florida’s literacy promotion program, we’d have to spend $ 25 million a year. We’re at $ 15 million. That goal is attainable. State agencies spend $ 30 million to $ 40 million in travel to conferences and seminars — I’m just saying.
Mississippi’s politicians and parties and special interests sometimes come together on big issues — landing a big automobile plant and such. But not on education. Heck no; offer no quarter. Fire up the base, put the lobbyists and lawyers to work, call a press conference and sling the hyperbole. What sounds better here? “Abysmal” or “worst since desegregation?”
Our state is in dire need of some bipartisanship, or — throw in the tea party — tripartisanship on education policy and spending.
And our students are in dire need of help.
Contact Geoff Pender at (601) 961-7266 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GeoffPender on Twitter.
Read or Share this story: http://on.thec-l.com/1EDL8de