Locals help lead pro-education rally at Capitol

Advocates for public schools are opposing legislative leaders' plans to rewrite the state's school funding formula. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Advocates for public schools are opposing legislative leaders’ plans to rewrite the state’s school funding formula. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A young student holds up a rally sign, joining several hundred parents, educators, education activists, students and a handful of legislators in a education rally at the Capitol in Jackson on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A young student holds up a rally sign, joining several hundred parents, educators, education activists, students and a handful of legislators in a education rally at the Capitol in Jackson on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Eighth grade Tupelo Middle School student J.T Grist told a crowd of hundreds Thursday in the Mississippi Capitol he does not think it is fair that students across the state do not have the same opportunities as those afforded to students in his hometown.

Grist said the Tupelo community spends local money to make up for the lack of state funding, but said many poor areas do not have the local funds to contribute to their schools.

“Doesn’t every child in the state deserve the best education they can get?” he asked. “It should not matter where you live.”

Jack Reed Jr., a businessman and former mayor of Tupelo, told the same crowd that support for public education should not be a partisan issue because of its importance to the progress of the state.

Referencing the fact that Sens. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, and Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who both represent Lee County, were at the pro-education rally, Reed said, “It shouldn’t even be bipartisan. It should be non-partisan. It is an economic issue.”

Reed told the crowd of about 500 that legislators who cared about creating good jobs and about reducing the crime rate should be for support of public education as the best way – the only way – to achieve those goals.

But Leslie Fye, a mother of two children in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, said matter of factly she could not trust some Republican politicians in the state.

She said they have supported sending funds that should be going to public education to other entities – whether to vouchers or for tax breaks to corporations – and have been critical of the public schools at times in the past.

Fye cited an instance when Gov Phil Bryant referred to the schools as “abysmal.”

“He said that about the teachers I have grown to know and respect,” she said. “That saddens me.”

Northeast Mississippians played a key role in the statewide education rally held Thursday in the state Capitol. Besides those who spoke to the crowd, there were about 25 others who drove down to voice their support.

Throughout the crowd were signs demanding “A seat at the table.” Many of the speakers voiced concern that legislators, led by Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, were trying to rush through and not be transparent in their planned rewrite of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The MAEP is the mechanism that provides state funding to local school districts for basic operation.

MAEP has been underfunded $1.8 billion since 2008 and is $182 million short of full funding for the current year.

“How do you know MAEP will not work” when it has been fully funded only twice since it was enacted in 1997? asked retired Hollandale Superintendent Howard Sanders, who was the first speaker Thursday.

He said the “the one goal” of the proposed rewrite is “to privatize eduction across the state.”

Jack Reed Jr., a Tupelo business leader and former mayor, told the crowd gathered Thursday that support for public education should not be a partisan issue. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Jack Reed Jr., a Tupelo business leader and former mayor, told the crowd gathered Thursday that support for public education should not be a partisan issue. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Janice Magers of Tupelo, a retired Mantachie teacher, traveled to Jackson to support the speakers. She also expressed concern about tax dollars that should be going to the public schools being diverted to charter schools and vouchers.

She questioned the wisdom of opening charter schools “when we can’t fund our public schools. … We should fund our public schools and give them a chance to pull their grades up to the level of other schools in the nation.”

The rally, which has been scheduled for weeks, occurred Thursday after legislators already had adjourned for the weekend.

Some referenced that perhaps many legislators did not want to face the large pro-education crowd.

Reed said to give them the benefit of the doubt – that perhaps they wanted to give the rally-goers their parking spots.

At any rate, the fact many of the legislators had left town did not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The 14-year-old Grist drew loud applause when he said he did not understand why “big corporations were getting big tax breaks and public education is getting less and less.”

The rally-goers filled the second floor rotunda area, and many more watched from along the rails on the third and fourth floors.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

Twitter: @BobbyHarrison9

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  • tom Neiman

    I believe the answer to our broken education system is school choice, charter schools, abolishing the department of education, thereby returning the education to the states; and to close those public schools that are failing in academic expectations.

  • JP

    Maybe if the parents in some of those “poor areas” across our state would not fight district consolidation, there would be more funds available to them. There are counties in this state that have less than 10 total schools, yet they are will to pay 2 superintendents $100K a year each to run separate school districts. And that doesn’t the cost of paying staff for 2 separate district offices. Does it really take a superintendent making $100K a year to operate 4 or 5 schools? I have been a public school teacher in this state for over 10 years, and this is just ONE example of many instances of WASTE in public education in Mississippi. Until we can find ways to spend money smarter there is no need in throwing more money at it.

    • Michael McNeece

      People in Prentiss County love their small schools and don’t want consolidation. Same goes for Tippah and other area counties. And did you know that the local elected school boards set the salaries for superintendents? And here’s something else: NO schools in Mississippi have had money thrown at them. They are all scrapping for every dollar they can find.
      Finally, thank you for being a teacher, I hope you are a good one!

      • Numbercruncher

        If they love their small schools, they can pay a lot more in local taxes for them. Add 50% in real estate and tag costs and lets talk about how much they love them a couple years down the road. There should be two county high schools in Prentiss county. Jumpertown and Thrasher are pitifully small and should be consolidated. Wheeler could be divided between Baldwyn, New Site, and Booneville. There is zero excuse for having an entire school open to graduate 10 or 20 seniors a year like at thrasher and jumpertown.

        Everyone loves their small schools, that’s why there are waaay too many of them. And then everyone turns around to Jackson to fund them all while money is being wasted with excessive administration and overhead.

      • JP

        If they are “scrapping for every dollar they can find” then combining school districts would be a start to find some extra money. You cannot honestly tell me that it is necessary to pay a superintendent over $100K a year to oversee 3 or 4 schools that serve less than 1000 students. There are principals who run high schools in this state with more than 1000 students. How can you justify paying a superintendent, plus an entire district office staff, to run such a small district? The fact is you cannot justify it while blaming Jackson for all the woes in public education. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of blame to be placed in Jackson, but the local school districts have to do their part as well. And that includes parents who “love their small schools”.

  • TWBDB

    Education is an investment in stability for a civil society. How the educational system is presented to the generations as they pass through is how that generation will, by and large, grow to become.
    Charter (private) schools can be a fantastic thing in the right setting, just like bank cards, cable TV, cell phones, etc. Be careful what you ask for. How many of you have time to take off from work to run you child from place to place as the slots fill up in private school ? STEM schools with competitive entry work great, schools of art, etc. But when you’re having to compete to get a slot just to have your child taught the basics, and that education becomes a commodity for sale, and that ‘free market’ becomes a manner of control —- again —- you better think about this long and hard.

    You’ve already got the framework, the infrastructure for public education. You already know the next generation needs training in technology and trade, you already know what industries are growing elsewhere, what industries would benefit the State of MS the most. You already know bringing education and industry into the most impoverished regions of MS, along the MS river, could grow the state – – turn the economy around. What are you waiting for? Stop fighting over this nonsense and work together.

  • DWarren

    Dumbed down curricula, inflated grading scales, social promotion fostering an entitlement mentality for advancement, refusing to allow teachers to maintain classroom discipline, an overemphasis on novel pedagogical approaches apart from actual course content mastery, the pandemic need for remediation as college freshmen, emphasizing progressive socialization (indoctrination) while deemphasizing academic achievement, arbitrarily nullifying the expressed will of two-thirds of the state’s voters, multiple “tracks” to a high school diploma, gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms, encouraging self-identification as preeminent over reality in the name of will-‘o-the-wisp “diversity,” revisionist history, antichristian and anti-American bias, blaming everyone for student failure except the individual student who refuses to learn and the public education system that refuses to require the student to learn, et. al. hardly qualifies as a public education system, in my opinion.
    More money is not nearly as important a concern for government schools as is the need for addressing the systemic shortcomings in pedagogical philosophy and practice that continue to hamper rather than help student learning. People who believe that retaining the real impediments to students’ academic achievement while pouring more tax dollars into a demonstrably failed system will produce better results are choosing delusion over clear-eyed focused perception of the authentic failing state of public education. Perhaps the time has come for the government to get completely out of the business of education. And if you fear the pedagogical results of homeschooling, private academies, and church based schools, please answer how these results could possibly be any more dismal or appalling than the products of the current public mis-education system.