Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bill Crawford: Legislature flubbed responsibility for good schools.

With all the noise about school funding, school choice, vouchers, and teacher shortages, perhaps a look at some fundamentals would be helpful.

Remember 2015? The Initiative 42 referendum to put full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) in the state constitution? That initiative and the Legislature's alternative both failed. So Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution remains unchanged.

It reads, "The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe."

That means it is our legislators’ duty to provide us free public schools, and puts the onus on them to make our free schools good schools.

The constitution gives them the power. They can draw and realign school districts, establish standards for administrators and teachers, set the school calendar, establish school policy and regulations, provide teacher pay, hold administrators accountable, and provide different types of schools, programs, and pay packages for challenged districts.

Instead, legislators have pushed much of the funding and responsibility to the local level. This lets legislators cut taxes, limit school funding, and pass blame for bad schools to local folks.

According to the constitution, however, this is not local folks’ job. Section 206 of the constitution says this about local effort, "Any county or separate school district may levy an additional tax, as prescribed by general law, to maintain its schools."

“May.” The constitution says local effort is to be discretionary.

It is not. Both the MAEP, and the apparently dead Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula considered by the Legislature this year, require local school districts to contribute up to 27% of the "base student cost." Legislators also expect school districts to provide most, often all, of the costs for school buildings and related facilities.

Meanwhile, the availability of teachers is fast declining. The Mississippi Department of Education reported a 92% decrease, from 7,620 in 2007 to 603 in 2017, in the number of applicants for teacher licenses.

Given our low pay, deteriorating teaching environments, constant curricula changes, and never-ending school funding fights, no wonder fewer and fewer want to teach in Mississippi.

It's pretty clear the Legislature has flubbed its responsibility to provide free and good public schools. We have too many low-performing schools and too many unable to attract and retain good teachers.

It’s no wonder parents in those school districts are frustrated. They feel locked into bad schools with no recourse for their children.

Rather than address the bad school problem, legislative leaders this year concocted a “school choice” plan to expand access to Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Already available for students with special needs, the expanded version would have given vouchers to selected parents to send their children to private schools.

What a cop out to legislators’ constitutional responsibility to provide good schools for all children!

Parents living in school districts with low-performing schools or those struggling to attract and retain good teachers, look to the Legislature to fix your schools and pay teachers attractive salaries. Diverting dear school funds to vouchers for private schools is not the solution our constitution authorizes or envisions.

Crawford ( is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.


Anonymous said...

School voucher programs quickly become political nightmares. Who you know matters as does whether little Johnnie or Jane can make the school look good.

Structuring an educational system so it can function efficiently and well educate our children really isn't that difficult. Finding a successful model for excellence in a public school system is not that hard. You can look here or elsewhere in the world . The commonalities start to become obvious. What is difficult is having enough of our citizens know the difference between reliable , factual information and political hype and agendas.

God forbid we should avail ourselves of unbiased educators in academia who have spent their entire lives studying how to best educate humans. Instead, we listen to politicians who often barely got out of high school or college and never once took a course in our humans learn.

We have made those issues that should be non-partisan, artificially partisan. Politicians saw the value of politicizing for their own agendas our schools and other basic systems in a society.

Can we stop being duped and instead demand that the politicians of every party cut it out and do their JOB and deliver?

Knowledge is power. Knowledge isn't dangerous. Facts aren't dangerous. Truth is found in knowledge of the facts. It's the myths and lies and propaganda and muddying of waters that is dangerous.

Smith said...

Please stand for a reading from the Book of RINOs. Thanks be to Haley.

Anonymous said...

Prediction 1: Let the Legislature appropriate every last cent into education and nothing but education for the next 100 years. But until the Legislature finds a way to increase the IQ in schools, performance will remain right were it is or lower and will never improve.

Prediction 2: Prediction 1 above won't ever be posted.

Anonymous said...

@11:05 AM drops a version of that same diatribe here nearly every single day.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Crawford, in constant reference to the constitutional requirements of the legislature, chooses to add words into that constitution to fit his narrative. Nowhere in the constitution is it the legislature's duty to provide "good" public schools (although that would certainly be the desired result), yet to make his case, Crawford adds that word into the constitution not once, but three times. Funding does not guarantee "Good", no matter what the level. The Legislature, even when Crawford was a member, had no way to insure that all the schools in the state were "good" schools. Yet, Crawford has no problem with interjecting his rewrite of the constitutional responsibilities without shame.

It cannot be the responsibility of the 174 members of the MS Legislature to insure a result - either in schools, health care, or environmental conditions. Sure, that is the intent - but not the responsibility.

Nice try, Bill.

Anonymous said...

"we listen to politicians who often barely got out of high school or college and never once took a course in our humans learn."

Huh? What is that jibberish at the end supposed to mean?

If you can't make sense, stop posting crap.

Anonymous said...


You can probably guess that the verbose know-it-all at 11:05 seeks to be, or may already be, a "professional education consultant". (Based on the overly-worded, overly-phrased, overly-paragraphed condescending diatribe.)

Anonymous said...

Any fool knows that if your kids are already behind in education you need to go where they can get help. That is not Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

Former teacher here. Let me just confirm that Mississippi's teacher crisis is 100% real and threatens to spread a JPS-style contagion around the state.

To be clear, this is NOT the same generic "teacher shortage" problem other states have. Mississippi is the bottom of the barrel. Our teachers eagerly leave to teach in states ranked 46th, 47th, etc., in education.

This is a key threshold because strong teachers are often the only thing keeping bad-but-not-terrible schools from going "Full JPS." A teacher with grit, passion, and experience can keep a class full of poorly-prepared kids (that is, most MS kids) somewhat on track. Just like an experienced coach can take bad athletes and at least lose games respectably.

When you replace strong teachers with novices, or with people who are teaching because they had no other options, that last line of defense is gone. Control of the classroom is gone. You basically get "worksheets all day, everyday" and constant disruptions. To continue the coaching analogy, respectable losses become weekly 50 point blowouts. Education is over; the school becomes a holding tank.

These bottom-of-the-barrel teachers (and administrators) are flooding in, as people (like me) with any other option go flooding out. Turnover is skyrocketing. It's partly the low pay, but it's mostly just more and more public schools crossing the threshold of general shittiness. Terrible administrators enforcing terrible, box-checking, counterproductive policy mandates. Terrible kids with terrible, indifferent parents. Fights, theft, a general sense of pointlessness.

Bottom line: Teacher application numbers are the canary in the coal mine. The canary is dead, and the firewall of decent teachers is basically gone. The mediocre schools are currently in free fall. And no one in the state --certainly not the legislature--has the knowledge or will to do anything meaningful in response.

For those who think Mississippi can't get any worse, hide and watch.

Anonymous said...

And the solution @9:26 AM beyond teacher pay?

otisfyfe said...

But, 11:05, we tried your formula for superior educational system improvement and hired the country's foremost expert, Dr. Wright, who turned out to be Dr. Wrong.

In fact, SHE could have written your post. Or DID she?

Anonymous said...

"we listen to politicians who often barely got out of high school or college and never once took a course in our humans learn."

Huh? What is that jibberish at the end supposed to mean?

3:00; I'm sure the poster meant HOW humans learn. But you already knew that. And THIS is how you spell gibberish.

Anonymous said...

9:46 -- The solutions aren't things politicians on either side are talking about.

First, disruptive students should be much easier to expel. Ask any teacher in a failing school, "Which would you prefer: A $5,000 raise or the ability to remove problem students easily?" The answer will be near unanimous for the latter. Countries like Germany do not assume that every student is entitled to 12 grades of education, no matter what bad choices they make. Neither should we.

Second, stop the insane multi-tasking. Modern nonsense education theory tells us teachers need to be "differentiating" lessons, which basically means teaching the same thing 5 different ways, with versions for smart kids, all the way down to learning disabled kids, all at the same time. Throw in administrators' and parents' abdication of responsibility for discipline, and teachers also have to be part-time counselors, disciplinarians, etc. This must end. Pay for good alternative schools with qualified counselors, so the rest of the kids aren't burdened with constant distractions. Let teachers be teachers and nothing else.

Third, pay teachers more, and make it easier to fire the incompetent ones. If you're feeling really ambitious, create more opportunities for excellent teachers to get raises based on merit. If a chemistry teacher is so good that you can livestream his lectures to every kid in the district, why shouldn't he make $90k a year?

In short, let teachers teach. Stop making them serve as part time wardens at a juvenile detention facility. Pay for decent facilities to help unprepared or troubled kids, or at least isolate the damage they cause. Pay teachers more for good teaching. Fire them for bad teaching. Same for administrators.

Anonymous said...

At 9:26 Brilliant and accurate post. Former teacher here as well, and what was said is unequivocally true. For those who don't work in education, the mantra that is POUNDED into teacher's and staff's heads is, "It's all about the numbers." Regardless of chronic absences, poor performance in knowledge mastery, and the generally pervasive attitudes of entitlement to graduate high school merely for showing up is abominable, yet the "leaders" in Mississippi just want to make sure to keep the ocean of funding flowing in the right directions. As 9:26 articulated the very real crisis so well, just stay tuned and watch Mississippi's education system as a whole implode and be taken into receivership by the Feds. This is easy to see happening in the not-so-distant future.

To answer 9:46 What to do? First, A top to bottom inventory of personnel positions and expenditures that are non-essential and wasteful. These are usually politically connected issues, but must be rectified regardless of "who knows who" in power. Second, A new digital attendance taking system that is objective and has no leeway to fudge the numbers. Two recent high-school graduates told me last week that they both missed almost 40 days of school their senior years. When asked, "How on earth did you graduate?" They replied, "Because we're smart." Lastly, any student who even postures violent verbage or behavior needs to be either arrested for terroristic threats on a government employee, or be expelled. There can be no tolerance for any kind of threats on school employees, otherwise you are actually teaching the kids that violence works. If there parents interfere? Charge them with neglect. The system is in freefall, and those in power are hanging on only for the sake of their pensions. Education? Meh. Who cares enough to fight for justice when the State's Attorney General is handed a spreadsheet of 27 accounting violations, and no charges are pressed. As 9:26 aptly said, get your popcorn, and enjoy the implosion, because....It. Is. Coming.

Who That Girl's People? said...

Disregard the posts from professional educators and pay attention to what 1:35 said. But, we must figure out a way to do that with the 'employment agency' we have in each district operating under the guise of a District Administration Building. As long as municipal government across this state and every school district concentrating on nepotism and favoritism to get people into the PERS loop, we will never advance one step forward.

Anonymous said...

At 4:35pm DON'T disregard the professional educators comments above, but do add to the realities of what Who That Girl's People said....very true. DOE is just an place to get someone on the dole and into the system for sure. It would be interesting to see where the bulk of the "teachers" in Mississippi graduated from.......

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile...The State Department of Education is comprised of failed teachers, borderline ex-administrators who needed a safety-net, people who managed to get a degree but were admittedly not cut out for classroom interaction with children and a triple handful of PERS 'drawers' standing around wearing 'consultant' hats.

And we need to continue to remind ourselves who's in the wheelhouse. A self-proclaimed expert who applied for nine administrative jobs in other states before she got herself hired here to run a rudderless ship. But ain't the pay damned-good?

If Ur Not In The Trenches, Ur Dead Weight.. said...

I've heard from many educators (in the trenches) over the years who've told me who the people are at 'The State Department' as they're referred to in 'the tower'. I've heard those teachers relate their experiences with traveling groups who come out into the field to evaluate. And I've also known more than a few who wound up at The State Department.

Wouldn't it be something if we had a 'real consultant' go into that building and spend three days interviewing each employee, spending maybe twelve minutes with each, to get a good snapshot of their experience and concepts of educating students, their personal goals and how they view effectiveness in education? And to develop some sort of 'layman's matrix' that would reveal the results of those interviews and all that interaction. Sort of like a matrix that would project top candidates for a corporate position in the private sector.

I'm betting it would be shocking. So shocking that most of us would want to raise the second floor window and fling ourselves into the street.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

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