Our view: Education Works ... but not at this level of funding

July 25, 2013 10:11:26 AM



It is hardly "breaking news," but the state of Mississippi has never put much stock in education. Yes, the state continues to be the one place where you are like to hear the admonition, "Jest cause you got ye one of them fancy high school de-plomer don't mean your better'n us!" 


Oh, it's not as though our state leaders don't talk about the value of an educated population.  


They absolutely love to talk about it. Doing something about it is entirely a different matter, however. 


During the legislature's last session, Gov. Phil Bryant -- still steaming over all those slacker working moms who continue to be a drain on our educational system -- managed to push through a education package he calls "Education Works."  


Well, it sounds good. 


As the "Good Book" says, "where your treasure is, there will be your heart also." 


Bryant's "sweeping" reform committed roughly $35 million for the programs (reduced by another $6 million by the Legislature). Even with that funding education will once again be underfunded, this time by a whopping $292-million based on the funding law the state adopted in 1997 called Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Over the past six years, public schools have lost $1.3-billion due to underfunding by the Legislature. 


Obviously, when it comes to education our hearts just aren't in it. 


We were reminded this week of just how dubious this new education program really is when it was revealed that the key component of the governor's program -- "Third Grade Gate" -- has fallen far short of its goal of hiring 77 reading coaches. "Third Grade Gate" mandates that every third-grader in the state be able to read at grade level by 2015. Those who fail to meet that standard will not be promoted to fourth grade. Some estimates show that almost half of the state's current third-graders do not read at third-grade level.  


To meet the huge task that confronts teachers, the Mississippi Department of Education had hoped to hire 77 reading coaches, who would move among the poor-performing schools to help get the kids up to speed. If that number seems paltry, consider that the MDE has managed to hire just 24 of those coaches as the school year approaches. 


The entire reading program is funded for just $9.5 million. In Florida, the same type of third-grade literacy project was funded with $1 billion, including $750 million the first year. Interestingly enough, Bryant invoked the Florida program as the example for Mississippi. 


But it's clear that the Mississippi program is to the Florida program as a gnat is to an elephant. 


What we have in Mississippi is one of those "unfunded initiatives" that Bryant and his Republican brethren in the Legislature howl incessantly over. 


Rest assured, the laudable goal of ensuring that all third-grader read at grade level will fail miserably. 


And when it does, our politicians will trot out the usual scapegoats: Bad Teachers. 


Or, perhaps, those infamous working moms.