OUR OPINION: Important issues remain in conference committees

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi legislators recessed for the weekend Friday morning, leaving in conference committee or in other forms of legislative limbo many of the most important legislative proposals of the 2013 session.
Action by the Budget Committee last week raising the revenue estimate for 2014 might have included an upward revision for budget-year 2013 collections, which could have helped squeezed funding needs in that cycle.
But $60 million that could have been applied was held because the Senate members of the committee all voted not to raise the estimate for 2013, the position supported by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, which is opposite that of Speaker Philip Gunn, who chairs the committee.
Politics aside, raising this year’s estimate appears dead for the time being because when the Budget Committee cannot agree the Legislature cannot by its regular process change the estimate.
The funds, if they accrue, would be divided between capital reserves and capital expenses.
The time between committing major bills to conference and the next action provides opportunity for constituents to speak their minds by telephone call, letter or email, or in person, to legislators, most of whom return to their districts and homes during weekend recesses.
Some legislators and some statewide officials are focused on implementing charter schools, but several actions affecting the regular school structure could stimulate progress elsewhere for our state:
• Pre-K education that will bring children to kindergarten “school ready.”
• Requiring strong curriculum that would make us equivalent to the highest-achieving nations in the world.
• Partially dismantling the status quo of ideas and practices and reassembling both designed for the needs of the 21st century.
• Creating and nurturing of more excellent teachers.
• Intense development of excellent leaders.
• More rigor in the school experience, from longer hours to more demanding courses.
Many of those needs have answers in development or in beginning stages of implementation, not in some far-away classroom, but in Mississippi.
Innovation assuredly will play a role, but ideology cannot be allowed to mask as innovation.
Enterprises focused primarily on profits for owners outside classrooms – i.e., for-profit charter school groups – cannot be primarily focused on students, parents and their communities, the true shareholders of public schools.
The simple answer to issues about putting children first is rejection of what appears to be and almost certainly is overtly political, followed by adoption of ideas with records of success.

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