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Education still key state topic

During state elections last November, political talk centered around ways to fully fund education in public schools in Mississippi. Much of the talk centered on Initiative 42 and 42A and the wording that was on the actual ballot explaining each initiative.

Even though the initiative didn’t get the required vote to pass, it sent a message that residents of our state want Mississippi to be better than 50th in public education. It is apparent from some of the legislation introduced in Jackson by our legislators this winter, some elected officials weren’t paying attention to the growing concern about educational funding or don’t care what their constituents want.

It seems some of our elected officials in Jackson want to introduce bills that would allow school vouchers and school choice to parents of our children. Many of these legislators are being courted for their votes in private meetings and events to persuade them to help support these bills.

What would happen in Oxford and Lafayette County if people were given the choice of which school district they want to attend? We have two strong school systems but are surrounded by counties with schools not as remarkable as ours. How would our schools suddenly deal with a great influx of students from struggling school districts? Where would we put them? At what point does the increased load diminish our quality and strain the teacher/pupil ratio?

Our school systems have handled the unbelievable growth our county has experienced in the last 10 years. If some of these bills are passed, can schools go and recruit the smartest students from surrounding counties and also athletes to help win championships?

Certain schools, such as religious schools or private academies, if they accepted state vouchers, would have to accept students of all races and religions. There would be no more choosing which students best fit the criteria for their school.

Listed below are several bills that have been proposed by legislators, which are directly related to education in our state.

Constitution Committee:

HC 22 — Amend the Constitution to require the governor to appoint the State Superintendent of Education

Education Committee:

HB 459, 467, 468, 469 — Revising the MAEP formula to result in fewer dollars to school districts.

HB 36 — School districts rated D or F must approve the voluntary transfer of students to better performing school districts.

HB 206 — Allows local tax dollars to follow students who transfer to new school districts.

HB 30 — Reduces the number of school days from 180 days to 170 days. (Kids would love to see this implemented.)

HB47 — The state auditor (an elected political office) will be tasked with assigning accreditation ratings to public schools.

HB 49 — Prohibit any political activity or opinions of teachers on duty, and prohibit any superintendent or school board member from political activity or opinions at anytime, anywhere. A $10,000 fine for first offenses are imposed.

HB 223 — Changes from 30 to 20 miles the distance a student can be required to go to school before permitting a change to another, closer district.

Many more bills will be introduced at the last minute supporting charter schools and the voucher system. The main point of the charter schools, according to Mississippi First, is to allow students to cross district lines to attend a charter school of their choice and also begin to allow charter schools in A- and B-rated districts.

If you are concerned with public education in our community, now is the time to contact your local legislators and let them know how you stand on these bills that have been introduced. Our children should come first.

Tim Phillips is publisher of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at tim.phillips@oxfordeagle.com.