New Mississippi law tweaks school accountability

Published 11:08 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A new Mississippi law allows the state to take over any school district that fails to meet academic or financial standards for two years in a row.

A key lawmaker said Wednesday the measure of success won’t be in the number of districts supervised by the state.

“If we never, ever took over another school district, this bill be will be successful,” said House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson.

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Brown said some accountability measures in the new law will encourage local school officials to head off problems before they’re too bad.

The so-called “Children’s First Act of 2009” became law as soon as Gov. Haley Barbour signed it Wednesday.

Previous laws allowed the state to take over districts with severe academic or financial problems, but there was not a specific timetable. Officials say the new law not only clarifies the timeline for takeover but also provides ways for the state Department of Education to help local officials tackle problems before they get out of control.

Barbour said it’s important that public officials find ways to help failing schools succeed.

“Regrettably, that’s something we have to be mindful of — and not just in Mississippi,” Barbour said.

The new law requires each district to publish an annual report about whether its schools are meeting academic standards set by the state Board of Education.

Failing districts would be overseen by a new Mississippi Recovery District that’s being established inside the state Department of Education. A conservator appointed to oversee a failing district would have 45 days to present an improvement plan.

The new law says students who participate in extracurricular activities must have at least a 2.0 grade-point average on a 4-point scale. The rule applies to students in grades 7-12.

Barbour said Mississippi is receiving a $150,000 grant to develop a plan to help improve low-performing schools. The grant comes through the National Governors Association with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Colorado, Maryland and Massachusetts received similar grants.

The bill is Senate Bill 2628.