The 2023 legislature session may increase the challenges and woes of the state’s public schools

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Benjamin Franklin once declared that he was relieved when the legislature adjourned and went home. On occasions, that has also been the feeling of citizens in this state. Based upon some of the laws that have been proposed thus far, many supporters of public education may be holding their breath until the current legislative session ends.

There are several proposals that may not be negative in and of themselves, but which could have negative consequences based upon the intent of the proponents and the implementation of the measures. For example, House Bill 62 provides another alternative route to teacher licensure. The new proposal could open the door for many individuals to enter the field of teaching who should not be in the classroom, as has been done in the past. The proposal will also further undermine the efforts of the schools of education in the public universities. The chief reason for being and their field of expertise is teacher education. The different alternatives of teacher development could prove to be a short-cut to teaching that is as unwise as would be such a short-cut to becoming a medical doctor or a lawyer.

House Bills 101 and 475 both require the ACT as a prerequisite for grade advancement or graduation. On the one hand, it is a positive step forward for them to end the subject area tests for graduation as is called-for in House Bills 228, 354, 474, and 475. On the other hand, the ACT requirement seems more of an unnecessary impediment placed before students. Senate Bill 2057 and 2065 both fall in that same category of impediments, requiring subject area tests for graduation.

While the writer understands and supports the intent of House Bills 117 and 228 as well as Senate Bills 2057, 2065, and 2168, that is, to have students informed of their state’s history, their country’s government, and students’ civic rights and duties, he would caution that rather than the legislature getting involved in what should and should not be taught at the various levels, the department of education should play the role.

In every case where there is proposed legislation regarding failing districts and/or the consolidation of districts, caution and careful study should be taken at the outset. In such proposals, there are often not only serious flaws but bad intentions as well that should be avoided.

Among the proposed bills which have been introduced, thus far, there are some very positive ones. (1) House Bill 60 requires the return of Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) funds from charter schools to the home school district when the student leaves the charter school. (2) House Bill 359 prohibits distinguishing between students and programs in cases where funding has come from the state or federal government. (3) Senate Bills 2161 and 2163 provide for increased funding for pre-kindergarten programs and require compulsory kindergarten attendance, respectively.

On the other side of the ledger, there are several bills that are clearly designed to advance the agenda of national and state right-wing Republicans. (1) House Bill 488 and Senate Bill 2056 are both efforts to get prayer back under the school’s oversight. Such an act perhaps will lead us back to the Supreme Court for a decision that would affect the entire country. (2) House Bill 365 and Senate Bill 2185 are both designed to advance conservative notions of patriotism in the schools. (3) House Bill 360 appears to be aimed at enabling local entities to control public school athletics, in this case, perhaps opening the door for charter schools’ athletic participation with the local public schools and their subsequent recruitment of players from the same pool. (4) Senate Bill 2079 would allow for the arming of educators on the campuses. (5) Senate Bill 2083 would allow individuals as young as 18 to carry concealed weapons on school property. These five bills are all clearly on the right-wing Republican agenda, having little or nothing to do with the educational program per se.

Senate Bill 2164 would allow for the sale of school property to other entities for development purposes. Because of the type of abuses and corruption that could result from such, the writer thinks that such sales are a bad idea. Other ways of generating funds for the districts should be pursued more vigorously.

Given the fact that the deadline for the introduction of bills had not been reached before this article went to press, we are fairly certain that there are other bills that can be added to this list next week. We intend to include them at that time.

Finally, it should be kept in mind that the items on this and any subsequent list that requires appropriations, including funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, will likely be negatively affected by the proposal of Governor Tate Reeves to eliminate the state income tax. One-third of the state’s revenue comes from income taxes. With nothing to replace that money, virtually every aspect of state government will be affected and public education more than others. 

Stay tuned! These are critical times as the legislature debates and votes on these proposals. Keep in touch with the relevant legislators so that we approach the best rather than the worst outcomes this time around. 

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The 2023 legislature session may increase the challenges and woes of the state’s public schools

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
January 23, 2023