BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
So called “affluent” school districts in Mississippi worked with the Superintendent’s Association, the Parent’s Campaign, Parent’s for Public Schools, and other financially connected organizations to defeat a charter school bill in the legislature in 2012. The refrain of public school officials from those geographic areas considered to have “successful” or “high performing” schools was something akin to “not in my backyard.”
Freshman Senator Chris Massey from Desoto County pointedly told a crowd at the Hernando Chamber of Commerce quarterly meeting in June, “We don’t need charter schools to come in and change what we have.”
Superintendent Milton Kuykendall is a political force in Desoto County. It was due to his help that Massey defeated Senator Doug Davis in the Republican primary. Davis was the chairman of appropriations, but had supported reduced funding of the controversial MAEP funding formula, the confusing formula used by government schools as a means to pull more and more money out of the state budget. When Davis began to ask too many questions about the wisdom of the open checkbook requests of Kuykendall and his friends, he became a target.
Other Superintendents of “High Performing” districts had been doing their part politically, as well. Jackson County teachers were shown a Power Point legislative ranking of legislators by the anti-school choice organization The Parents Campaign just hours before primary elections in 2011. The result was the loss of some of the legislatures supporters of education reform.
With the political deck stacked in their favor at the state capitol, government school organizations joined forces during the charter school debate to take control of the message–a task made easy by a lack of effort on the part of conservatives. The result was the eventual defeat of any legislation based on the false message that charter schools would take valuable resources from “high performing” schools.
Lance Izumi, a nationally recognized education expert, threw cold water over that argument in his presentation to Mississippi officials and media at Tuesday’s Mississippi Center for Public Policy “Liberty Luncheon.”
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Izumi presented data on Mississippi’s “affluent” districts that showed how they use the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) to bolster numbers and mask a failing system. According to Izumi’s research Desoto County and other “high performing” school students are really not much better prepared than students in some of Mississippi’s failing schools or those on “academic watch.”
One indication of the continued charade is the recent move by the Mississippi Department of Education to remove graduation rates from school ranking systems. A change made during the 2012 legislative session to an “A-F” grading system for school districts removed the confusion of the old system. Government school officials weren’t ready for that kind of transparency. So, after voting to have both systems side by side for “comparison” (read: more confusion), they further moved to pull graduation rates out of the data in order to continue the game of hide and seek with Mississippi parents and taxpayers.
Regular readers of Mississippi PEP know that this website has aggressively shared information on this fight since we first launched a year ago this month. We have stirred some debate, and anger, by pointing out the flaws in the government system, and by investigating the communications and moves of the anti-schoolchoice groups. With Mr. Izumi and others help we’ll continue to do this as we march through the next 6 months leading up to the 2013 Session of the Mississippi Legislature.
Mr. Izumi was the first to admit that his data was simply too voluminous to share in a single short presentation. Likewise, there is too much data to share in a single web posting. That’s why we plan on continuing this conversation. Mississippi taxpayers and parents deserve to see first hand how the system has failed generations of families, and how groups have played politics to milk the state coffers yet provided no real progress to show for it .
Over the coming weeks and months, we intend on breaking down this data, and presenting it to our readers little by little to give time for true analysis, engagement and discussion. Interviews will be conducted with legislators, school officials, teachers and policy wonks alike.
The goal is simple: education. An educated citizenry makes educated decisions.
What’s my angle? Their names are Isaac and Rickey. They are my two sons, and they and their children–when that time comes–deserve the best I can give them. I want the options. I want the choice.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett
- Sen. Watson on Education in Mississippi: Why Parental Choice?
- Mississippi schools not ready: Opting Out Of No Child Left Behind (mississippipep.wordpress.com)
- Mississippi Teachers to Get Debit Cards (wtok.com)
- Doug Davis: Time to decentralize Mississippi College Board, allow universities to choose their own leaders. (mississippipep.wordpress.com)