Public demonstrates their support for schools through bond votes

Published 11:13 pm Saturday, November 25, 2006


When you look around the state, you see the public has made a choice. They have chosen public education despite the best efforts of some groups to bash public education. I would like to congratulate the citizens of Jackson for their strong support of the bond vote to improve the facilities for Jackson’s children. The vote truly demonstrates the foresight that the citizens of the Capital City have and that they recognize that the resources they have dedicated to building, expanding and renovating Jackson’s schools are an investment in the future.

Not all of Jackson’s citizens have school-age children and not all of those with children send them to public schools. There were plenty of doubting Thomases and naysayers when Jackson superintendent Dr. Earl Watkins and Board president H. Ann Jones announced the decision to put the bond vote on the November ballot. As anyone who has ever been involved in an election will tell you, it’s not easy to get a simple majority, much less the 60 percent majority needed to pass a bond issue. Over 80 percent of Jacksonians voted in favor of the $150 million bond proposal. This clearly shows that they weren’t just voting for their own children; they were voting for their neighbors’ children and the future of the city.

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Communities across Mississippi have shown this kind of support for their own futures in recent years. Just a few months ago, both Jones County and Petal passed bond votes by margins of over 90 percent. Prior to the Jackson vote, DeSoto County passed the largest school bond proposal in state history in 2004. The $115 million bond helped them to build several new schools and expand existing ones to help meet the demands of a student population that grows by over 1,000 students each year. Madison County and Rankin County have also passed bond votes for their schools in recent years.

However, this has not always been the case. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were years when fewer bond votes passed than failed. However, the 1990s were more encouraging in terms of the number of bond issues that passed during that decade. Since 2000, communities have shown even greater support for their schools. This trend shows that Mississippians recognize that schools are the backbone of their communities and that strong support for schools will result in stronger economic development and a better quality of life for all, from families with children to retirees.

A strong partnership between the schools and their communities, with high expectations and accountability on both sides, is most beneficial for both entities. Schools play an important role in attracting citizens and businesses to an area.

While Mississippi does appear last in many categories, strides in student achievement have been made over the last five years. Over 90 percent of our schools are rated Successful, Exemplary and Superior-Performing under the state’s accountability system. Under the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, 83 percent of our schools have met adequate yearly progress in all three areas, including reading/language arts, mathematics and other academic indicators. The number of students scoring proficient and advanced at each grade level and in each subject on the Mississippi Curriculum Tests has increased over the last five years.

Mississippi has more students who live in poverty than any other state. Statistically speaking, poverty is the greatest predictor of student performance. If you control for poverty and place Mississippi on a level playing field with other states, you find that Mississippi scores as well or better than a large number of other states on national assessments such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

While we remain near the bottom when compared to other states on the NAEP exams, our scale scores have improved on fourth and eighth grade math and fourth grade reading. Eighth grade reading scores have held steady.

Our goals are to reach the national average on national assessments in the next seven years and reduce the dropout rate by 50 percent over the next five years. We are making strides in student achievement, but we cannot reach these goals alone. We must have strong community support for our schools across the state. The voters in Jackson, Petal, Jones County, Madison County, Rankin County and DeSoto County have clearly shown their support for their schools. With all Mississippi communities demonstrating this kind of support, I am confident we will meet and even exceed our goals.