January 10, 2014 10:28:50 AM
As any third-grader should know, there are 50 states in the United States. When it comes to education, Mississippi ranks 51st.
You can't get any lower than that.
If ever there were a wake-up call for Mississippians, this should be it.
In its report released Thursday, Education Weekly places Mississippi at the very bottom in education, below the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, which has long been considered the educational equivalent of the abyss.
That Mississippi lags behind in education is nothing new, of course, but the news that our state has sank to a depth that can no longer be plumbed should serve as a sobering reminder that the time for quick fixes has past.
As it has just in just about every annual session, the Legislature will devote some attention to improving our schools. There will be big talk, followed by small actions. There will be grand pronouncement of ambitious goals, but few resources set aside to achieve those goals.
Again, we will hear the call for the Legislature to set aside the funds required by state law as implemented by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program of 1997. Under that plan, Mississippi public schools would be funded through a formula established by the Legislature. Since its inception, our schools have met MAEP standards just twice.
Funding continues to lag, with estimates showing that our schools have been underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars since MAEP was written into law.
There are those who are dismissive of the cry for adequate funding for schools, arguing that throwing money at a problem doesn't solve the problem. Many blame lazy teachers and irresponsible parents. Some attribute the failures to spending too much money on administrators and bureaucrats and not enough money in the classroom. Some vaguely blame the federal government. Some say the era of the public school is over.
There is probably some truth to each of those arguments. There are, no doubt, some lazy, uninspired teachers. Some parents place no value on education. In some places, too much money is spent at the administrative level.
But taken as a group, these issues cannot explain the state's precipitous drop to the very bottom. It's not as though those issues are unique to Mississippi, after all.
What is missing, we believe, is that Mississippi's commitment to education is always viewed too narrowly. Changes will not come overnight. In fact, if the Legislature heaped money on our schools in this session, we would likely see no discernible positive result in next year's test scores. And that, of course, would prompt some to say the money was wasted.
But if Mississippi is ever to reverse the trend in education in a meaningful way, we must take a long view. We must invest heavily in education and not waver in our commitment, even when results are not immediately apparent.
It will take a generation or more for Mississippi to make significant progress in education, mainly because we have fallen so far and for so long.
The real questions thus emerge: Are we really committed? Are we committed to a long, arduous, expensive effort to tackle the single most serious obstacle to the future health and prosperity of our state?
This is not the first time we have pleaded with our Legislature to show their commitment to education not with lofty words, but with real action, backed by real dollars.
Our actions, not or words, will show our real commitment to education.
If we aspire to anything better than last, we simply cannot afford the luxury of political infighting, half-measures and distractions.
It's time to put up or shut up.
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