House passes several Senate bills

With March 11th being the deadline for the House to take action on bills and constitutional amendments originating in the Senate, several significant issues were settled.  From the House of Representatives Weekly Summary, the following issues were approved:

Senate Bill 2389 is an Article V vehicle to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget and limit the ability of Congress to raise the debt limit without states’ approval. The bill was passed by the House but not without some contention between Democrats and Republicans.

Senate Bill 2695, the “Special Needs Bill,” was passed to set-up a pilot program to give parents of special needs students allotments (or vouchers up to $6,500) to can seek the educational opportunities appropriate and best suited for their children’s specific situation.

Senate Bill 2161 establishes a commission to study Common Core State Standards, determine suitability for Mississippi school children, and present recommendations to the State Board of Education.

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Lt. Gov. releases 2015 priorities

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves published his priorities for the 2015 Legislative session.  As the second-highest ranking official in Mississippi and the President of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor wields significant power in appointing members to Senate committees and setting the legislative agenda.

His initiatives are summarized as follows:

  • Eliminating the vehicle inspection sticker.
  • Placing public hospital boards under the Open Meetings Act.
  • Reforming state contracting laws.
  • Expanding physician residency access.
  • Improving care for the mentally ill.
  • Ensuring high academic standards for Mississippi students.
  • Spending more on education based on effective district management.
  • Providing school choice for special needs children.
  • Reducing concealed carry permit fees.
  • Recognizing military training for firearm permits.

Further explanation can be found on the Lieutenant Governor’s website. Like all state-wide offices, Mr. Reeves is up for re-election in 2015.

For more information:

 

 

2015 Preview: Busy Year for Mississippi

With 2015 a state-wide election year, the upcoming session of the Mississippi Legislature is sure to be interesting.  First, every member of the legislature and all state-wide office holders are up for re-election. Additionally, Initiative 42, the proposal to amend the state constitution to require fully funding MAEP, will be on the ballot and a possible alternative if passed by the Legislature.

With MAEP on the ballot, public education funding is certain to be a top issue for the legislature. The full MAEP formula has only been funded twice since adopted in 1997 (both times during election years) and, with Medicaid costs increasing, funding the full amount will require some combination of decreasing amounts for other services and higher education or raising taxes.

Tax relief is another political football and only the governor has proposed to give a tax credit to low to moderate income working families.  The $5 state inspection sticker may also come up for consideration since it does not generate much revenue. Corporate taxes are also on the table; Mississippi is one of 13 states with a franchise tax that puts the state at a competitive disadvantage with other states in attracting new businesses.

With the scandals that have hit the Department of Corrections, Contract Reform will likely be another big topic this year. Tighter restrictions on no-bid contracts is likely to be politically popular this year.

Mark the calendar with these notable days in 2015:

  • State Legislature Convenes: January 6th
  • State Legislature Adjourns: April 6th
  • Party Primary Election: August 4th
  • Party Primary Runoff Election: August 25th
  • General/Special Election: November 3rd
  • Special Runoff Election: November 24th

For more information:

Yes, There is a Democrat Primary on June 3rd

Democrat U.S. Senate Candidate Travis Childers and 4th Congressional District Democrat opponents Trish Causey and Matt Moore met last Thursday to promote the Democrat Primary on June 3rd.

Childers emphasized his commitment to public education and against education vouchers.

Causey emphasized her advocacy for women’s and gay rights.  Moore stated that, based on Democrat numbers alone, they should be able to win in the general elections despite Mississippi being considered a Republican stronghold.

All 3 expressed commitment to a minimum wage increase, healthcare coverage for the working poor, and women’s rights.

For more information:

City of Gulfport to vote on bonds for Gulfport High School

The city of Gulfport is holding a special election on May 27th to decide whether to sell $41.2 Million of bonds to build a new Gulfport High School.  If passed, the initiative would cost the average taxpayer $50 per year.

The Committee for Excellence in Education says that Gulfport High doesn’t have the curb appeal that new schools do.  The new school would provide larger, more functional classrooms and meet modern technology demands.

The new facility would also address safety concerns and reduce the number of access points from over 70 in the current facility to just 4.  Administration spaces would be centralized to provide better service to parents.

For more information, see WLOX’s report Group pushes bond issue for new Gulfport High School.

The cost of education in Mississippi

The federal government provides $800 Million of Mississippi’s $3.3 Billion education budget.  The Daily Journal asserts that “Cutting federal school funding [is] not realistic” and then challenges the reader to “Imagine what the impact would be if 25 percent of the money coming into Mississippi’s public schools suddenly disappeared.”

Challenge accepted.

With 492,586 students enrolled in public schools according to the Mississippi Department of Education, the state spends an average of $6,699 per student per year.  For comparison, annual tuition rates for some Gulf Coast private schools were sampled, albeit not scientifically.  The amounts below include tuition, registration, and other mandatory fees that could be identified on the respective institutions’ public websites:

As it turns out, private school cost is less than public school funding.  Are the buses, school lunches, superintendents, school boards, a Board of Education and State Superintendent, and annual fights over teacher pay and MAEP adding value commensurate with cost?  Probably not.  Even though private school teachers are typically paid less than their public school counterparts, private school parents still find “value” in sending their children to them.  Quality education is not so closely linked to teacher pay as the NEA, AFT, Mississippi Legislature, and others would have us believe.  But I digress.

Back to the original challenge:  What would be the impact to Mississippi schools without the federal subsidy?  Answer:  Mississippi would still have enough funding to send each student to a private school.  Less the $800 Million, the amount per student ($5,075 per year) is almost enough to send a student to any private school on the list and more than enough with multi-child or “participating member” discounts offered by every private school.  Yet The Parents’ Campaign and Better Schools, Better Jobs demand more funding to meet the levels prescribed under MAEP as if funding is one of the most critical items for improving  the quality of education.

Mississippi can do better and increased funding is not a panacea.  Washington, DC spends nearly $30,000 per student and is ranked only 0.5% ahead of Mississippi in Education Weeks’ Education Counts report!  In fact, the Cato Institute found that “this spending figure is about triple what the DC voucher program spends per pupil—and the voucher students have a much higher graduation rate and perform as well or better academically.”

Imagine this:  Parents send their children to private schools effectively sacrificing their “entitlement” to $6,699 per student while spending another +/-$5,000 per student to do so.  By “voting with their dollars,” these parents demonstrate the increased value of the private schools they send their children to.  An education voucher system would allow all Mississippians to have that same opportunity, rich or poor.  A means adjusted voucher system could even save the state money while still providing better education value to the most needy students.

While the state can’t be weaned off federal funding overnight, getting the politics, bureaucracy, and overhead of the federal government out of education would be helpful to Mississippi and our country.  Returning education to local control, local oversight, local responsibility and exposing it to competition would be even better.

Being a net taker of federal “welfare” has yet to help Mississippi.  An education system that adds value will.

Imagine that.

For more information:

Education vouchers wildly successful in Louisiana

In the wake of the Mississippi House’s rejection of education vouchers for 500 special needs students, Louisiana reports 91.9% of parents are happy with the Louisiana Scholarship Program.  The program provides funds for parents to choose a school of their choice if they have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty limit and are enrolled in a public school with a C, D, or F grade.  Of those parents, 91.6% said they are happy with academic progress.

Louisiana’s program now supports 6,490 families.  Despite documented academic successes which led Louisiana’s legislature to roll-out the program statewide, the program had to survive a Justice Department lawsuit last year that alleged the program “impede[d] desegregation.”  Keep in mind, all the students benefitting from the vouchers are poor and most are minorities!

Just as Louisiana had to fight unions and the federal government to get and then keep the voucher program in place, Mississippi will have to fight those that benefit from the status quo.  Where does your state Senator or state Representative stand?  Below is how Gulf Coast Representatives voted on vouchers for special needs students:

  • Jeramey D. Anderson (110)–Nay
  • David Baria (122)–Nay
  • Sonya Williams-Barnes (119)–Nay
  • Manly Barton (109)–Yea
  • Richard Bennett (120)–Yea
  • Charles Busby (111)–Yea
  • Carolyn Crawford (121)–Yea
  • Scott DeLano (117)–Yea
  • Casey Eure (116)–Yea
  • Jeffrey S. Guice, Harrison & Jackson Counties (114)–Yea
  • Greg Haney (118)–Nay
  • Timmy Ladner, Hancock & Harrison Counties (93)–Yea
  • Doug McLeod (107)–Yea
  • Randall H. Patterson (115)–Nay
  • John O. Read (112)–Yea
  • Patricia Willis, Hancock & Harrison Counties (95)–Yea
  • H.B. “Hank” Zuber, III (113)–Yea

Even if they voted with your desires in the 2014 session, be sure to let them know what you think.  Nothing keeps them from changing their vote in the future except accountability to constituents.

For more information: