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Public schools still on chopping block

The guillotine hanging over public education has descended further. One can only wonder who will write the obituary for public schools in the state.

A while back, one of the senators who sides with the crowd wanting to replace public schools with charter schools got a bill passed by the Legislature that opened the door for school tax dollars to be shifted to private charter schools. The only limitation on the scope of that robbery was that it applied only when a public school was rated F, D or C.

The object was not to improve the public schools in question; it was to feather the nests of the corporations and groups that set up charter schools. An interesting inquiry might pose the question: How many names on those corporate charters match names on generous campaign donors? Well, obviously they’re getting their payback for putting the folks back where they can wreak havoc in the state.

Now the State Board of Education, all of whom are political appointees, have voted for a dramatic change to the school rating system. The end result of this change if it goes into effect will possibly shift 90 percent of public school funding tax dollars to private charter schools.

The new system of rating public schools is surely not one you would want your child ranked by. Would you want your child to get a B simply because the class quota of A’s had already been met? It’s the same thing now with school districts. The Board of Education wants to mandate that only 10 percent of state public schools can have an “A” ranking, regardless of how well they did on their testing. And each year, 14 percent of the schools must be rated as “F” districts, regardless of how much they improved from the previous year.

Having slashed so many budgets and raided the State’s rainy-day treasury, now come the hearings at which agencies are taken to task for not doing a better job. Sometimes the axemen have allies outside the Legislature. For instance, invite the big boys in higher education to point out the inadequacy of students coming onto their campuses.

The Commissioner of Higher Education said that the foundation of education that students will need to succeed in universities is not being provided. One response might simply be that every young person doesn’t need to succeed at a university, may not even be suited to academics at all. [Another time, we might explore how much better off many kids would be in strong vo-tech programs instead of learning more about the digital world. Last time I checked, skills builders need are hard to find when such a foundation is no longer available.]

Instead of underscoring that some schools have trouble finding “highly qualified teachers,” why not spend the $35 that goes to remediation instead of raising teacher salaries? Instead of giving $350 million in corporate tax cuts, why not keep the money in the bank and support better schools? Instead of worrying about re-election, why not do they job that one was elected for in the first place?

Though this next disaster will likely go into effect, Mississippians have until Sept. 13 to communicate with the Board of Education. Whether even a landslide of letters will slow the bleeding or not is questionable. Their contact information is accountability@mdek12.org. Their fax number is 601-359-2471.

Now the ball is in your court. Will you hit it or sit this one out?

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.