OUR OPINION: Schools need more than charter law

By NEMS Daily Journal

When the Mississippi Legislature convenes Tuesday, the focus will be on education. The key question is whether proper attention will be given to issues that can make a significant long-term difference.
Thus far, a disproportionate amount of attention and energy has been focused on charter schools. We support a reasonable charter school law that offers an alternative to students trapped in low-performing schools. Charter school operations with a proven record of sustained success should be welcomed in Mississippi. There are no doubt lessons that traditional public schools can learn and incorporate from the innovation that the best charters provide.
But they aren’t the sole or even primary answer to Mississippi’s education challenges. Their most ardent supporters, led by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, acknowledge that charters aren’t a “panacea,” but the emphasis on getting charter legislation passed suggests a lot of stock is put in what they can accomplish.
It’s going to take a lot more to accelerate school improvement in Mississippi.
Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to provide $3 million for Mississippi’s pilot pre-K Building Blocks program, modest though it is, and his emphasis on recruiting and retaining top-quality students as teachers, get more to the heart of Mississippi’s broad educational needs. That includes his pilot program proposal for teacher merit pay, a concept whose time has come.
Bryant, however, is off the mark in his advocacy of tax credits for scholarships to be given to students from low-performing schools to attend private schools. No public funds should go to private schools, directly or indirectly, especially in a state where most private schools were created to avoid or minimize racial integration.
The governor and legislative leaders also intend to push an end to promotions for third graders who aren’t on grade level in reading. It’s a worthy goal to have all students reading proficiently at that critical point, but it won’t happen without significant investment in reading enhancement before children reach that stage. Bryant proposes $15 million for additional reading instruction in the early grades.
It’s a good thing that education is back on the legislative frontburner. But the potentially most productive education proposals on the agenda for the 2013 session should not be allowed to be overshadowed by a singular emphasis on charter schools.