Education bills before the legislature citizens should keep an eye on

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Last week, we discussed more than a score of bills introduced in the state legislature that deal with public education, pointing to their possible impacts on the state’s elementary and secondary schools. 

Today, as the deadline for the introduction of such bills has passed, we add comments regarding even more of the education bills.

It is significant to note that a large number of these latter bills are apparently a part of the right-wing Republican agenda. This means that they would have a negative impact on the public schools. For an example, House Bill 671 would put a cap on the amount of proceeds generated by the lottery that would go to public education. Instead, the extra money would go to roads and bridges. House Bill 1010 would enable charter school applicants who currently operate a charter school to be automatically approved for subsequent charter schools. House Bills 555 and 1150 would strengthen the institutionalization of charter schools, tying them more closely to the postsecondary governing bodies of the state.

There are at least 4 bills – Senate Bill 2599 and House Bills 360, 748, and 749 – that would promote or make it easier for non-public school students to participate in public school athletic activities. We mentioned several other such bills last week as we also did the proposed bills to allow armed teachers in classes and certified eighteen-year students to carry concealed weapons.

Although it should not be too surprising, it still is sobering to see a proposed bill, Senate Bill 2058, exempting school counselors from having to follow the Code of Ethics established by the American School Counselors Association. This kind of position is similar to provincial positions of rejecting educational standards supported by the majority of other states.

It is also not surprising but most likely in order to help “capture” control of more public schools that House Bill 560 proposes electing school board members during presidential years. This would generate larger turn-outs on the part of those with 

extreme agendas. It is this kind of politicizing that society has often tried to avoid in the past.

There are several proposed bills that on the surface may seem neutral, but could be misused or implemented in negative ways. One of these is the idea of student promotions being based on their cumulative grades as is proposed by House Bill 332. This can be abused and lead to faulty assessments and student evaluations when they are compared to students in other systems. 

Similarly, there can be abuse or corruption when it comes to the sale of timber that is located on sixteenth section land. Permission to engage in such sales is proposed in House Bill 1086. House Bill 1228 proposes the authorization of Community Schools, but should not be confused with another national community schools-initiative. Furthermore, these community schools should not become another type of charter school by another name. Finally, the election of county school superintendents is democratic on its face, but could certainly be manipulated if such elections are tied to the election of school board members during presidential years. The bills listed immediately above deserve careful attention in order to prevent them from being used for bad intentions.

The idea of trimester school years and other such new school-year configurations may represent progress given the fact that many educators have advocated the same for decades and that school years should not be based upon harvest seasons. These measures could bear great fruit if they represent the opportunity for students to have a longer school year and increased academic productivity and for teachers to have larger pay checks. House Bills 115 and 1042 are among the new bills that propose such changes.

There are many bills that propose courses or subject matter to be taught at various grade levels in the state’s elementary and secondary schools. Among these bills are: (1) House Bill 227, which proposes the teaching of visual and music education. This is important since many districts dropped such offerings as their budgets tightened; (2) House Bill 593, which proposes the teaching of physical education; (3) House Bills 595 and 831, which propose teaching African American Studies and Racial Diversity; (4) House Bill 597, which proposes Vocational Education and Home Economics; (5) House Bills 596 and 830, which propose teaching Civics and Home Economics; (6) House Bill 56, which proposes instruction on mental illness; and (7) House Bill 586, which proposes the teaching of Financial Credit Counseling. 

While these are generally excellent ideas, as indicated last week, it should be the role of the department of education, with thorough input from the schools, to determine what is taught, and at what levels, in the public schools. Legislators should not assume the position of dictating what is taught in the schools. Each profession should be the expert in its own field.

There are at least five categories of bills which we would declare as right and/or progressive. These include: (1) House Bill 158, House Bill 291, and Senate Bill 2477, which prohibit corporal punishment by educators; (2) House Bills 569 and 570, which are supportive of teachers’ right to strike; (3) House Bill 523, which would require that tests that are a part of the statewide testing program be translated and printed in the primary spoken language of the students; (4) Senate Bill 2328, which would prohibit mid-term reductions of Mississippi Adequate Education Program funds; and (5) Senate Bill 2553, which would revise the charter school funding formula.

There were a number of measures that provide for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of students in such health areas as dyslexia, diminished vision, and hearing impairment. These are all good and necessary measures. They should be supported and financed by the health department. 

Apparently, not all of these bills will be enacted into law. Nor should they all be enacted. We present them here in order to inform busy citizens on what is on the table, so that they can become more active, supporting the good bills that need to pass and opposing the bad ones that need to be defeated. 

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Education bills before the legislature citizens should keep an eye on

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
January 31, 2023