OUR OPINION: School progress occurring, funding progress possible

Mississippi Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth and Interim State Superintendent Lynn House made their pitch last week to the Legislative Budget Committee for full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

It was no surprise when Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves raised concerns about increasing funding for “administrative” costs while funding for instructional cost is down, under the MAEP formula.

House said the Department of Education wants to work with the Legislature to develop a strategy to fully fund MAEP, which is the program guaranteeing that basic needs of every school are met.

House’s and Gann’s goal and Reeves’ reluctance don’t mean no progress is possible.

What’s needed are open minds and more communication that is depoliticized and more analytical.

The Mississippi Economic Council, the private-sector equivalent of a statewide Chamber of Commerce, released its highlights of progress on a number of state fronts last week, and prominent among them was progress in the quality and performance of public schools.

MEC has been strongly focused on the effectiveness, quality and practicality of Mississippi education for decades, so its positions are not surprising.

In sum, this is what MEC says about schools in the 2013 highlights:

• Mississippi’s focus on educational improvements is “paying major dividends as schools across Mississippi showed major gains in the Mississippi Department of Education’s accountability ratings.”

• The biggest gains: School districts receiving an A or B ranking. The report shows 18 school districts achieving an A rating (including 5 in Northeast Mississippi) , while 40 percent of all districts were either B or higher, and only 10 percent of the districts received an F ranking.

Increasing educational standards and accountability has long been a priority issue for MEC, and the statewide organization has backed its position with hard lobbying, when necessary, for key educational improvement legislation. The MEC is not uncritical; it is analytical, in part because good business requires good analysis in finding the ways to move forward.

An increased focus on educational achievement, as MEC and the MDE report, has “resulted in more A-B districts and schools than there are D-F districts and schools. In 2013, 64 percent of districts ranked C or above, up from 61 percent in 2012 and 54 percent in 2011. There are 92 schools statewide that received a failing rating.”

Failure always remains a concern, but even incremental improvement in the average to highest-scoring districts is progress.

Mississippi’s schools, given adequate resources and a clear mandate, can perform.