Report card issued for legislators
Published 7:00 am Friday, June 17, 2016
Thursday, Empower Mississippi released the grades for their 2016 Education Report Card.
Four legislators from Pearl River County received an “A” for their votes on key school choice and education reform votes from the past legislative session, a release from Empower Mississippi states.
They include Senator John Polk and Representatives Mark Formby, Herb Frierson and Timmy Ladner.
Of the 174 House and Senate members, 45 members of the House and 21 members of the Senate received an “A,” the release states. A majority in both chambers received at least a “B.”
According to the release, legislators were graded based on their voting record concerning laws that would affect superintendent appointments, charter schools, Education Scholarship Account expansions and the renewal of the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship.
“We are fortunate in Pearl River County to have good schools,” Formby said. “But that is not the case in half the state. We need to make decisions that won’t harm local schools but make changes in suffering schools.”
For many years, Polk said he has been passionate about the need for districts to appoint superintendents in the state’s districts.
Both Polk and Formby said there is a very limited pool of qualified and capable individuals in counties who can run for the office of superintendent. As such, they suggest appointments over elections.
“Many also don’t like the hassle of election, this takes away from education,” Polk said. “With this approach, the pool of possible qualified candidates enlarges itself, especially for districts that are underperforming.”
Ladner said he doesn’t favor any of these bills over the other.
“All of them will give students a better opportunity to get a better education,” Ladner said. “In the future, I would like to see all elected school boards. One of the entities should be elected and accountable to the public. They are too far removed from the voters.”
With the passage of Senate Bill 2161, students in schools rated “C,” “D” or “F” can cross district lines to attend a charter school, the release states.
The majority of students have access to free education, Formby said. However, before the passage of this bill, parents living in a failing district who didn’t have the means to move or pay for private schools could not transfer to a school in another district, he said.
A charter school, Polk said, is a non-profit school that has a particular goal. Officials have five years to accomplish that goal. If they don’t, the charter can be pulled.
“Charters schools are run differently,” Polk said. “They do things outside the box.”
Frierson added that competition often brings out the best in a situation and he is hopeful that charter schools will create competition with public schools.
According to the release, the legislature voted to expand eligibility for the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs program to any student who has received an Individualized Education Plan in the past five years versus 18 months.
Kittredge said, under the program, parents are given about $6,500 to obtain private and other educational tutoring for special needs students.
The final bill on this year’s report card was the Dyslexia Scholarship program, which legislators voted to renew this year, the release states.
Frierson, who said he is a big supporter of the dyslexia scholarship program, said most schools aren’t equipped to dedicate special attention to these students.
“This program allows a parent to take state dollars and send their child to a special school for dyslexia,” Frierson said.
Formby said dyslexia is a condition that can be corrected with the right training and specialists.
“Because of the actions of this legislature, I am proud to report that more parents than ever now have the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their child,” Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen said in the release. “We still have a long way to go to ensure that every child in our state has access to a high quality education, but we are making strong progress. Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn deserve a lot of credit for moving Mississippi in the right direction on education issues. We are on our way to creating for Mississippi a world class education system.”
Empower Mississippi is a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded about two years ago to support and promote educational reforms in the state, Empower Mississippi Communications Director Brett Kittredge said.
The group’s main focus is to provide options for families, promote and speak about having the ability to choose a school, he said.
According to the release, lawmakers are graded on a scale of A-F.
Legislators who vote no on key educational bills drop a letter grade, Kittredge said.
“It’s a way to give a picture to the public and let them know how their legislators are voting,” Kittredge said.
To view the full report card, visit www.empowerms.org.