OUR OPINION: Education reforms desirable but don't forget the funding

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s public education system and its future attracted time and attention at the Neshoba County Fair this week from the state’s two top elected officials, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reform is on their minds but not necessarily to the same degree and in the same directions.
Neither revealed any big surprises, and some of what both men said offers significant potential if developed carefully and fully for maximum learning benefit without overbearing ideological elements.
Reeves restated his strong support and determination to enact charter school legislation that would empower formation of public charter schools that could exist in the same districts with regular public schools under some scenarios.
A charter school law with stringent safeguards to ensure that schools reflect the district in which they are chartered, hold potential for bringing improvement to districts described as “high risk” because of the demographics of poverty, especially in dysfunctional families and households.
Not all charter schools produce better academic results, but the best ones offer instructional opportunity that has proven effective in significant numbers of districts.
Bryant restated his earlier call for reforms that would introduce measured performance and accountability among teachers in determining compensation. We believe achieving that is possible and desirable. That is not say that many, even most teachers, do not work diligently, but compensation that rewards outstanding performance works as an incentive for committed professionals in the private sector and could do the same for teachers.
Bryant linked performance, compensation and a goal of having every child read at grade level proficiency by the third grade.
In the 2012 session the charter school issue ended in deadlock because many public school advocates saw flaws in what had been pushed by the leadership.
The off-season between legislative sessions offers time for all leaders interested in improving public schools to reasonably discuss reforms and seek to build a consensus steering clear of extremes that would continue to polarize positions in the 2013 session.
Public education, by whatever good method, stands a better chance of success with full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, a promise made by the Legislature that has not been kept.
MAEP is not an extravagant, indulgent program but a formula to provide adequacy in baseline funding for all schools.
The program needs an additional $321 million in budget year 2014 to reach the level already prescribed in law. That’s the policy in force but not fulfilled.
Funding for adequacy should be the starting point from which all education reform discussions flow.