State's black lawmakers: Education top priority

By Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press

JACKSON – Black lawmakers say funding public schools and infrastructure projects at Mississippi’s historically black universities is among their priorities as budget-writing moves into its final phases this session.
Members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus discussed those projects and others during a public meeting Monday on the campus of the private Tougaloo College in Jackson.
They urged residents to lobby legislators to pass the proposals, including full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. MAEP is a formula designed to ensure an equitable distribution of state dollars to school districts.
Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, said a proposal to implement an intervention initiative for failing school districts and add services for “at-risk” families should also get serious consideration this session.
The proposal would, among other things, employ or assign school counselors, social workers and other professionals to craft a plan to help families become self-sufficient, she said.
“If we don’t stand up and say we’ve got to have some intervention in our school districts, you won’t recognize the black community in 25 years,” said Scott, the caucus chairwoman.
Last fall, the state Department of Education released data showing only 51 percent of the 152 school districts are successful, high-performing or considered a star district, the highest possible rating. The rest of the districts are on academic watch or received lower ratings.
Several capital improvement projects at the predominantly black universities of Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State have been presented this session. The projects, along with those from the state’s five other universities, would require the state to borrow money to finance the improvements.