Reeves attacks graduation rate omission

By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says the Mississippi Board of Education made a mistake when it decided to omit high school graduation rates from school ratings this year.

Reeves, speaking Wednesday at the Neshoba County Fair, also said he is determined to push a broader charter school law through the Legislature in 2013.

The Republican lieutenant governor said he believed the board’s July decision to drop graduation rate requirements was a response to the Legislature’s decision to change school ratings to an A-to-F scale.

“Unfortunately, some in our education establishment have too often become more focused on the appearances of success than on achieving real results,” Reeves said. “There are some who are more worried about protecting their positions or their turf than they are about graduating more students and getting more students ready for college.”

Board of Education members had said they made the change because only high-performing schools — those that would otherwise be rated in the top two tiers — were penalized for not reaching graduation standards. Those rules said a high school had a to achieve an 80 percent graduation rate to get an A or Star rating, and had to reach a 75 percent graduation rate to get a B or High Performing rating.

The board said it would take the year to re-examine the graduation requirements and other elements of how the state rates schools.

Reeves spoke under the tin-roofed pavilion on the main square fairgrounds south of Philadelphia. The speeches, a long Mississippi tradition, drew a small crowd on a hot day.

Except for a hiatus during World War II, a fair has been held in the red clay hills of Neshoba County since 1889, and politicians have spoken there since 1896. This year’s fair is eight days long. Extended groups of families and friends stay in more than 600 rainbow-hued cabins on the fairgrounds, swapping stories and sharing meals in the peak of summer heat and humidity. The fair has horse races, a small midway and traditional attractions like contests for quilt-making and vegetable canning.

Reeves had vowed at the end of the last legislative session that he would push for charter schools during the summer and fall.

“The Senate passed it; the House did not. But I’m not quitting,” Reeves said Wednesday.

He reiterated his belief that charter schools would raise student achievement levels, and that parents and students in failing schools should have options.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said last week that he wants to focus on education in the 2013 session, as he unveiled a call for teacher merit pay. Reeves’ agenda makes it more likely that the Legislature will devote big chunks of its time in 2013 to school issues.

Also speaking Wednesday were Attorney General Jim Hood, state Auditor Stacy Pickering, Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall and Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey.

— Pickering gave a speech that was half about his efforts to collect money from people found to have misused government funds and half about his effort to elect Republican Mitt Romney as president. He called for a state law that would bar governments from hiring anyone who had been convicted of a felony for misusing government money.

— Hood, the only statewide Democrat, gave a low-key speech focused on his efforts to stop Internet sex predators and protect consumers.

— Republican Hall called on people to consider raising the state gasoline tax to pay for building and maintaining state roads.

— Posey, also a Republican, discussed the PSC’s efforts to stop phone solicitors. He said that Mississippi Power Co.’s embattled effort to build a $2.8 billion power plant in nearby Kemper County was being carefully watched, and said no costs would be passed on to consumers unless they proved warranted.

Bryant and state Supreme Court candidates are among those scheduled to speak at the fair Thursday.