Gov. Barbour’s signing Wednesday of the Children First Act of 2009 enhances the expectations and the quantifiable burden of accountability for administrators, students and trustees of every Mississippi school district.
Passage was accomplished because public education supporters inside and outside the Legislature and the Capitol worked relentlessly and effectively to win the day – and the future – for more effective education policies.
Due credit goes to Barbour, Speaker of the House Billy McCoy, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, and Senate Education Chairman Videt Carmichael for leadership and cooperation.
High visibility and effective advocacy came in significant measure, too, from The Parents’ Campaign, a voluntary organization of 50,000-plus members, and its small, energetic professional staff, which understood the issues and worked the Capitol and its network of parent-advocates statewide.
The new law, which has been a work in progress for three legislative sessions, provides the long-needed legal and procedural mechanisms to deal with administrative and trustee incompetence, allowing the state in the worst circumstances to replace superintendents and take over failing districts.
It also provides a statewide no performance-no play rule encompassing athletics and other extra-curricular activities for students in sixth grade and higher. Students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average on a 4.0 system to participate. After being declared ineligible for academic reasons, their return must be certified by the State Department of Education, which would monitor eligibility based on a full semester grade reporting period.
The standard will be painful for some who have grown accustomed to free rides based on achievements other than educational attainment.
In summary, the act gives full notice to all districts: Fail to meet the standards set by the State Board of Education for two consecutive years and face emergency intervention that includes removal of a district superintendent, including elected ones, and removal of trustees, whose governance is at the top of the chart.
Districts also will be required to publish, in a local newspaper and on a district’s Website, an annual report of achievement and failure, as the case applies. The report will be public record and available to all at the district’s office.
The legislation also reforms financial accountability, with new accounting standards to ensure transparency and accuracy.
In a standard long sought by the state board, local superintendents are required to train with their local trustees when one or more district schools underperforms.
Mississippi has made significant progress in funding public education. The tough new standards make it hard to throw money at education (as some say) without parallel achievement.