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Barbour signs sweeping school bill




JACKSON -- Gov. Haley Barbour on Wednesday signed into law a bill lauded by the Department of Education as "the state''s most sweeping education reform in more than a decade." 


"The Children First Act allows the state to step into troubled districts relatively early and begin their turnaround," Barbour said. 


Senate Bill 2628 empowers the state Department of Education to remove local superintendents and school board members when their school districts fail state performance standards for two consecutive years. 


The new law''s critics say it goes too far in forcing out superintendents and board members. 


"In two years, that''s not much time," said Rep. Esther Harrison, D-Columbus, one of only four lawmakers voting against the bill in the 174-member Legislature. 


She said improving troubled school districts isn''t easy. "We can''t even deal with the teachers in that short of time," Harrison said. 


However, state Education Superintendent Hank Bounds said students should not be "forced to be in a school that''s chronically failing." 


"This new law will give us the confidence that our leaders are making the right choices that always put children first," Bounds said. 


The Mississippi Department of Education estimates that about 10 percent of the state''s 152 school districts are failing. 


Bounds said the bill "puts measures in place to do everything possible to keep schools from ever getting to that point. But it also says if you do ... and you stay there for two years, then that''s the line in the sand and that''s when there is a total removal of folks from the leadership." 


The Mississippi Board of Education in March approved a new accountability rating system. Schools will receive their new ratings this autumn in the next school year. The accountability standards are based on achievement test scores, academic growth and graduation/dropout rates. 


While the most dramatic feature of the new law is the removal of leaders in failing school districts taken over by the state, it also gives the Department of Education more tools to help make improvements and prevent such drastic action. 


"If we never, ever took over another school district, this bill will be successful," said House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. 




Among other provisions in the Children First Act: 




  • Creates a Mississippi Recovery School District to govern school districts that have been taken over by the state. 


  • Requires school districts that are failing to establish a council representing schools, businesses and the local community to help assist in their improvement. 


  • Requires all school districts to publish annually a report that includes specific achievement and financial data as set by the state Board of Education. 


  • Puts into law the state Department of Education''s no-pass, no-play requirement that junior high and high school students in sports, bands and other extracurricular activities have at least a 2.0 grade-point average.  





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Reader Comments

Article Comment Beth Graves commented at 7/11/2009 12:57:00 PM:

If schools are failing, it takes a collaborate effort including leadership, parents, teachers, etc., to become academically successful. However, as with any business (education or otherwise) it starts from the top and trickels downward. Without competent leadership, schools will without doubt, fail. Only competent/creative administrators are capable of motivating to perform successfully. Subbordinates are known to follow the 'body language' of their superiors. Check out the excelling districts and you will find competent, positive and supportive administrators to every single constituent.


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