Keep in line with constitution

Published 12:00 pm Friday, March 25, 2016

By T.J. Ray

“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.”

Stop and reread those words. They are crystal clear. State education funds will not be spent in any non-public school that is not free. Translation: charter schools need not apply.

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With that in mind, consider that this year thus far a great chunk of legislative time has been spent proposing and passing bills that directly violate those words. Oh, by the way, those words are part of the Mississippi Constitution. In other words, the folks in Jackson on our payroll are working avidly to violate our constitution. But it should also be noted that many of them have their seats because of lobby support from companies that now want state dollars flowing to them.

Consider a few shenanigans on the record. One is HB 943: Private School Scholarships for All. The original version already on the books allowed funds to pay for sectarian school attendance for children with special needs that public schools couldn’t provide. The new version opens the floodgates to all students.

Another is HB 202: Virtual Schools. Every school district would be obligated to redeploy its MAEP funding to contract with virtual learning providers to make multiple virtual learning opportunities available to every student … regardless of whether the district considers this process to be advantageous to its students.

HB 202 flies in the face of the overwhelming nationwide experience that virtual schools have not provided effective educational opportunities nor meaningful academic advancement for students from underperforming schools and districts.

Just one more in this sad litany. HB 1010: School Choice. This bill seeks to enable any student residing anywhere in the state to have the right to transfer to attend any public school district located anywhere in the state, subject to consent by the school district, in its sole discretion, to which the student desires to transfer. State and local funding would “follow the child” and be diverted from the district of residence to the new school district to which the student transfers.

Just imagine the outstanding sports program that can be engineered under this bill. Also imagine the nightmare local districts will have cutting checks to be sent there, wherever there is.

Lest you think our superdominant party in Jackson is the only Machiavelli tearing up schools, don’t forget the Department of Education. For some time they have been on the Common Core bandwagon, which is organized disaster pushed by very special and powerful interest groups.

Recently the MDE struck a 10-year $122 million contract with Questar to create standardized tests for our kids. Not a problem except that Questar had never done such work. The bidding for the contract included the detail that the winner would provide practice tests to schools. Flash forward: Questar gets the contract and produces no practice tests. And so the MDE has to generate them, which it does with many errors, including incorrect answers to problems that were spotted by real educators, not mannequins in Jackson. When this foulup was brought to MDE’s attention, schools were told they could change the answers if they wanted to. If they wanted to? What the devil is a standardized test if each district puts in its own answers to questions?

Enough protest and the MDE folks responded. MDE did, however, remove all math practice tests from the department’s website. Although it originally said the tests would be available that afternoon, the department decided to remove and review all of the practice tests.

“The Mississippi Department of Education regrets that math practice tests were released with errors. We are taking aggressive action to correct the errors,” a statement from MDE said.  “… Out of a total of 245 items on seven different math practice tests, approximately 12 items contained errors, including errors that were typographical in nature. However, any errors are unacceptable.”

Let’s stop this and save some juicy stuff for another day. Isn’t it fun to see what your representatives are doing in your name?

Before we go, the good news is that all three of these bills are dead in the House of Representatives. Others of equal destructive power are still on the table. At this point the money bill are mostly waiting to be settled. Thus far a tax credit of $265 million and incentives have gone to Continental Tire and another company, and MAEP funding is still $200 million underfunded. Interesting math, isn’t it?

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at