By Joyce Helmick, President, Mississippi Association of Educators–
As a lifelong resident of the great state of Mississippi, a 37-year veteran educator in public schools, a mother of public school graduates, a grandmother of two future graduates of Mississippi public schools, and an advocate for educators and students in public schools, I am raising my voice against damage being done to our schools and Mississippi’s future.
Mississippi public schools have been underfunded year after year by lawmakers consistently using the excuse that the MAEP funding formula is “too complicated” and that no one truly “understands” it. I know that’s not true, and so do you. What is true? Underfunding public schools is a national trend and the “complication” issue is a red herring.
On Tuesday, January 30, the Senate Education Committee decided to pass a measure that will undermine the financial stability of school systems across the state for the foreseeable future.
Senate Bill 2623, the “Voucher Bill,” passed with only three dissenting votes. Under this measure, the potential loss to public schools from students’ taking taxpayer-funded vouchers to private, parochial, charter, church or home schools is conservatively estimated to be $97 million in the fifth year of its implementation with a whopping cumulative loss of $270,450,000 in years one through five.
It appears committee members prefer to give Mississippi workers’ hard-earned taxes to private, parochial, charter, church or home schools—none of which must operate under the same public scrutiny as our public schools.
Mississippi’s Constitution explicitly prohibits public school appropriations from being donated to religious affiliated schools. When pushed on how this can happen in a state that allegedly reveres all things “Constitutional,” committee chairman Sen. Gray 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. As much as $270 million may be disbursed with no accountability to the taxpayers for their hard-earned dollars.
State control over accountability for taxpayer funds is not the only transparency or accountability measure to disappear with this bill. Not all educational centers that receive funding will 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.
Some support vouchers because they say the use of public funds for private schools improves student outcomes. This is simply not true.
• Voucher proposals do not require recipient education centers to adopt the academic standards, ensure hiring of 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.
The truth is that when public schools receive the funding that they need to fill classrooms with highly qualified educators and the adequate resources needed for student growth, student achievement improves, schools become strong centers of learning for communities which in turn grow and prosper. 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.
Mississippi needs prospering, growing communities. Economic prosperity directly correlates with the quality of public schools in the communities. Quality public schools equal economic growth in Mississippi, period.
Let’s say YES to Public Schools and NO to Vouchers.
MAE DOCUMENT 02/06/2018
The voucher scheme’s cumulative drain on public school funding can be conservatively estimated at $270.5 million after the fifth year of its implementation. That figure is derived by multiplying the number of eligible individuals in years one through five by $4,500, the base student allotment, and adding each year’s total together. For example, in year five, the number of students eligible will be 21,700, according to the bill. Thus, in year five, a total of $97.65 million will go to vouchers. (See the chart below). Importantly, the estimates do not include the additional allotments per student voucher that would come from special needs, rural schools and other factors included in the bill.
|School Year||Estimated Number of Eligible Students (based on current enrollment)||Base student allotment||Total Voucher Expenditure|
|Cumulative amount expended on vouchers at base rate over five years.||$270,450,000|
§ 208. Control of funds by religious sect; certain appropriations prohibited
No religious or other sect or sects shall ever control any part of the school or other educational funds of this state; nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school. SOURCES: 1869 art VIII § 9.