Education

She had 72 hours to prep for a hearing legislators didn’t attend

Biloxi

When Julia Weaver traveled to Jackson, she thought at the very least she’d have the chance to give feedback to legislators in person.

Concerned with a select group of lawmakers’ recent decision to hire an outside organization, EdBuild, to analyze how the state allocates funding for education, Weaver and others got together and drafted a statement of their own.

They were forced to move quickly.

There was less than 72 hours from the announcement of the hearing to make it to Jackson, the one and only public forum offered for discussion.

Weaver promptly gathered 80 signatories, 65 from the Coast, on a letter she would present in person.

There were several educators, parents and community leaders. We had some great speakers. Some legislators came and went. But it was more about who wasn’t there.

Julia Weaver

Thursday, she took off work and drove three hours to the Capitol.

But when she arrived, she noted a couple things.

The board room was full, yet those most responsible for drafting the contract with EdBuild weren’t at the hearing, Weaver said.

“There were several educators, parents and community leaders,” she said. “We had some great speakers. Some legislators came and went.

“But it was more about who wasn’t there.”

Neither Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves nor House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-56, made the meeting. Nor did the House and Senate education chairs, she said.

“It was frustrating. Sure, they’ll have a transcript but what troubles me is that it took me six hours of travel time to get there, lost wages — and key members of the Legislature weren’t there. These are the people who are going to be receiving the recommendations. They decided not to show. I think that’s troubling.”

A message to EdBuild

Notwithstanding the absence of key legislators, Weaver addressed those in attendance:

“We, the undersigned, are very concerned that the Legislature has not fully funded MAEP in recent years. Chronic under-funding has been a real problem for our school districts,” Weaver read.

We, the undersigned, are very concerned that the Legislature has not fully funded MAEP in recent years. Chronic under-funding has been a real problem for our school districts.

Julia Weaver

“Programs have been cut and class sizes have grown. Most importantly, it is increasingly difficult to attract and retain great teachers.”

Focusing on the EdBuild representatives in attendance, Weaver said, she told them it’s imperative to have public meetings across the state, to talk to people and to visit schools.

“Not one meeting with only 72-hour notice,” she said.

Weaver’s other suggestions:

▪ Make the process transparent

▪ Be prepared to show your work

▪ Include a plan to keep pace with inflation to gradually rise to the Southeast average.

▪ Ensure students in low-wealth districts have funding similar to higher wealth districts.

Weaver directed the listeners’ attention to Coast districts.

“Consider special circumstances such as the needs of high-growth districts and districts along the Coast,” she said. “School districts on the Gulf Coast have insurance and utility increases that are beyond our control that really stress our budgets. Become familiar with the predicted rise in electricity costs in the Mississippi Power Company service area.”

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory

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