Legislators should seek schools study by experts

Published 2:24 pm Friday, April 13, 2012

The new Republican leadership in the Legislature is still reeling from a signature campaign pledge — charter schools — being rejected despite holding majorities for the first time in both chambers since Reconstruction.

But the November election campaign’s agenda is being thwarted by some Republicans themselves, afraid that the broad-based charter schools proposals would harm successful schools in their districts by drawing away public funding to these semi-private experiments.

The problem with charter schools in this context is not charter schools per se, but the clash of a political idea with a basic reality.

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Mississippi public education is so poorly funded that there is little room for experiments, however well intended.

Indeed, the problem isn’t that some districts desperately need help, but that what little help schools need is being withheld by years of state budget cuts.

In their zeal to make improvements, some lawmakers may need some perspective. There already is a way to ensure adequate funding, with the state’s Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

MAEP was enacted in 1997 to equalize funding for all school districts, so that every schoolchild in the state would have an equal chance for an “adequate” education. But Mississippi lawmakers have only rarely fully funded it. …

Mississippi lawmakers should commission a study by experts to make recommendations about public education, as a workable legislative plan for the 2013 session.

The charge should include specific bills for charter schools that will not detract from education dollars, but will improve services, and include statewide early childhood education. If the state did that, and fully funded MAEP, the need for siphoning public dollars to charter schools might well subside.