Gunn: Focus is on educational efficiency

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Education reform may receive less attention from state lawmakers in 2014 than it did in 2013.
Speaking at Friday’s CREATE Foundation State of the Region meeting, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said he feels the primary educational focus next year will be on making sure taxpayer dollars are being invested well.
“We are going to work hard to measure the efficiency of your taxpayer dollars and put more money into the programs that work and shut down the programs that don’t,” he said at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.
Gunn, R-Clinton, predicted the most heavily debated educational items next year would involve school governance and a program that would grant tax credits to those who donated to a fund to provide private school scholarships to low-income families.
The school governance debate would involve making all Mississippi superintendents appointed positions and all school board members elected. Currently, districts operate differently, but in general, most county school districts have elected superintendents, while most municipal school chiefs are appointed by their boards. Many city districts also have school board members that are nominated by the mayor and approved by the city council.
The issue was debated during the last session, but the two chambers did not reach consensus.
The tax-credit scholarship program was first proposed by Gov. Phil Bryant last December. It received little traction during the last session.
Gunn’s remarks follow a 2013 session that was dominated by efforts to improve the state’s schools. Laws were passed that allow charter schools, require students to read on a third-grade level before advancing to fourth-grade, provide scholarships for top college students who want to be teachers and allow funding for early-childhood education, among other actions.
In Gunn’s opinion, the most significant was the so-called “third-gate” that focuses on third-grade reading.
“Charter schools received way more attention than it should have,” he said. “It is not a magic formula. It is a tool to be used where there are not educational opportunities. It is one tool to be used.
“The third-grade reading gate should have received the attention. That will have a bigger impact on our educational system than charter schools.”

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