February 1, 2018

Committee Deadline Day is Bad for Public Education

Commentary by Tyrone Hendrix, MAE Executive Director

SB2623 and SB2400 Hurt Public Schools

Tuesday, January 30, marked a bad day for public education in Mississippi when Senate committees decided to pass one measure that will undermine the financial stability of school systems across the state for the foreseeable future and another that could eliminate experience and knowledge from our elected school boards.

Senate Bill 2623, the “Voucher Bill,” passed Sen. Gray Tollison’s Education Committee with only three members voting “No.” Under this measure, the potential loss to public schools from students’ taking taxpayer-funded vouchers to private, parochial, church or home schools is conservatively estimated to be $97,650,000 in the fifth year of its implementation.

When reminded that Mississippi’s Constitution explicitly prohibits public school appropriations from being donated to private or parochial schools, Chairman Tollison explained how the measure works around the Constitutional prohibition: the money will be given to parents, and thus there is no state control over how that money is spent.

State control over accountability for taxpayer funds is not the only transparency or accountability measure to disappear with this bill. Educational centers that receive funding under this scheme will not be required to adhere to the common education standards adopted by education professionals both nationally and in Mississippi because there is no oversight to ensure that they are complying.

  • Voucher proposals do not require private schools to adopt the academic standards, ensure the highly qualified teachers, or administer the assessments required of public schools.
  • Vouchers threaten civil rights protections. Private, religious and home schools are not all fully covered by civil rights laws.
  • There is no evidence that vouchers improve student learning. Every serious study of voucher plans has concluded that vouchers do not improve student achievement.

Rather than experimenting with programs already found to make no real difference in student achievement, we should focus on ensuring that all students across the state have the tools for success — including full funding of public schools, smaller class sizes, more parental involvement, up-to-date materials and high-quality teachers.

Senate Bill 2400 was passed by the Elections Committee after it had been previously approved in the Education Committee. This measure provides that all elected school board members will be elected simultaneously, rather than in staggered terms. The potential that a school board could be populated by individuals with no prior experience is very real under this idea. The use of staggered terms ensures that there will always be members serving who have had experience in this public service role. It is only common sense.

The Mississippi Association of Educators opposes Senate Bill 2623 and Senate Bill 2400 and urges all public school supporters in Mississippi to do the same. These measures are now before the full Senate for a vote before being transmitted to the House.