Mississippi School for Math and Science cuts enrollment after funding woes



This file photo shows Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science students conducting an experiment in the chemistry lab.
COURTESY CLARION-LEDGER This file photo shows Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science students conducting an experiment in the chemistry lab.

Despite Mississippi's low-ranking in public education, MSMS has been listed as one of the nation's best public high schools in The Daily Beast.

The 113 members of the MSMS class of 2016 have received more than $21 million in scholarships with an average ACT score of 28.5, nearly 10 points higher than the state's average ACT score of 19. Sixty percent of the graduates will attend college in Mississippi, while 40 percent will enroll in out-of-state schools, including Boston College, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

But school officials say flat funding has forced the public boarding school, housed on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus and dedicated to academically gifted students, to reduce its enrollment numbers.

The last time MSMS was near its full capacity of 275-300 students was five years ago.

Wade Leonard, a spokesman for MSMS, said enrollment has been scaled back by 12 percent from 271 students during the 2011-12 school year to 238 students for the 2016-17 school year.

If more funding is not received, the school’s class size is expected to drop to 220 by the 2017-18 year, an all time low.

“Right now we have an acceptance rate right at 50 percent,” executive director Germain McConnell told The Clarion-Ledger.  “Three or four years ago, those on the alternate list could have easily gotten into the school.”

Students are eligible to apply to the STEM school their sophomore year of high school with an expected 300 applications submitted each year, Leonard said.

Historically at least a third of the school’s student body has qualified for reduced or free lunch. McConnell expressed concerns about applicants on a wait list who might come from lower-performing and high-poverty districts with limited curricula.

“It’s really detrimental that some of them won’t have access to pre-calculus,” he said.

The upcoming class of 2017 would have been trimmed by four students if not for donations from Chad Edmonson, a 1999 graduate, and the MSMS Foundation.

Edmonson’s gift of roughly $60,000, allowed MSMS to accept three more students, while an additional $36,000 raised by the foundation made it possible for a fourth student to attend the school.

Edmonson, a Hattiesburg native, said as a sophomore he had already taken the majority of junior and senior classes classes offered at Forest County Agricultural High School, prior to transferring to MSMS.

A graduate of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked on Wall Street before returning home to Mississippi last year.

Active in the MSMS Foundation, Edmonson recalled how his jaw dropped when he learned of the decrease in enrollment.

“It was shocking because it was more on the side of 280-290 students when I was in school. That’s such a dramatic drop in that it was a directional change. (I started thinking) about the school not being open anymore. After the board meeting, I agreed to make a donation.”

Within the past year, much attention has been paid to funding for public education after a failed ballot measure that would have required the Legislature to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Lost in the debate were specialty schools including, MSMS, the Mississippi School of the Arts and schools for the blind and deaf, which do not have an ad valorem tax base to draw funds from and are therefore excluded from the formula.

Instead, they rely on allocations from the Mississippi Department of Education. With MDE subject to state budget cuts, these schools are particularly vulnerable.

For the rest of this story, visit Clarion-Ledger's website.