Last week, the Clarion-Ledger reported several harsh comments made by the Mississippi Board of Education regarding the state legislature’s attitude towards education reform.
The remarks came after a meeting where the board discussed ways to improve failing school districts and other issues. According to the report, Board President called the current situation in Jackson, “the worst political environment for education since desegregation.”
“There’s a hostile environment across the street toward public education,” Board of Education member William Harold Jones told the Clarion-Ledger. The board members criticized the legislature’s lack of commitment to improving Mississippi’s public education system.
The legislature came under fire following the house voted to delay the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, which has come to be known as the third grade reading gate. The act, that was passed in 2013, would require third grade students to be reading proficiently before being allowed to advance to the fourth grade.
The legislature’s actions induced a frustrated reaction from Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who supported the reading gate legislation. The Governor responded by saying, “it is little wonder that Mississippi’s public education system has been an abysmal failure.”
“I have not walked a mile in any of their shoes, so I choose not to judge,” said Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith. “I do wish that people in key positions would stop making generalized statements like calling our education system an abysmal failure. It is not a true or fair statement.”
Bryant’s Spokeswoman, Nicole Webb, specified that the governor’s comment was directed at members of the state legislature rather than educators and students.
“The governor’s comment last week was directed toward House members who apparently have decided it’s a good idea to scrap probably the most important education reform enacted so far,” Bryant’s spokeswoman, Nicole Webb told the Clarion-Ledger.
“While I understand the frustration of Board members, I do not think the governor’s recent remarks criticizing the state of education or the State Board reflect the attitude of rank and file House members,” said House Education Committee Member Toby Barker (R-102).
“Rhetoric is very powerful, and it shapes the attitude and morale of all stakeholders. Therefore, all elected and appointed officials need to be careful with their words. Our education system needs real commitment to resources and evidence-base policy, not finger pointing or unproductive generalizations.”
“Funding, leadership, community involvement and efficiency are all equally important factors in growing student achievement,” Barker said.
“The Legislature has made strides in all four of these areas in recent years but needs to do more. Specific to funding, it’s important to look at the whole of our state budget. We must examine which other agencies are requiring more spending; simply because these other agencies take resources away from education. If we can bend cost curves in programs like Corrections and Medicaid, this frees up more funding to invest in education.”