Other Opinions

WAYNE RODOLFICH: Please support fully funding Mississippi public schools

Wayne Rodolfich, superintendent of Pascagoula-Gautier School District
Wayne Rodolfich, superintendent of Pascagoula-Gautier School District

I have compiled some data about several legislative "reforms" taking place in ississippi. Here are some points the public should consider while being told by the Legislature how to think, how to act and how to feel about the full funding of our children's public education.

The first legislative reform is the Special Needs Act. Mississippi has 54,000 special education students. Five-undred $6,500 vouchers were available in the first year to any child who met the qualifications of the reform. Of the 500 vouchers available, only 261 were applied for, which equals 52.2 percent of 500. Of those applied for, only 178 qualified for the vouchers, which is 35.6 percent of the 500. If we used this number as an average accepted per year until we reach full SPED reform, it would take 303 years to fully "reform" special education in Mississippi using this method. In the first year of this law, 1/3 of 1 percent of the total SPED population in Mississippi will have been served.

The problem with this "reform" is that many private schools rely on public schools for special education services. Many private schools that now receive vouchers cannot offer the services and support staff special education children need. My questions are: "How is the success of this reform measured? Who constructed a benchmark for success?"

The second reform is the charter school law. To date, two charter schools in our state are populated with students. We will use the last legislative term to provide a scope for these "reforms." About 490,225 students attend Mississippi Public Schools. The impact of charter schools represents less than 5/100ths of 1 percent of our students. Using the annual charter enrollment of 112 per year over the last two years, it would take 4,377 years to see this reform come to full completion. Also, based on Stanford research, we will still have to contend with the nearly 70 percent of charter schools that perform worse or no better than the public schools they are replacing.

In our state, the current leadership and legislative majority constantly tout the business model. Most business models are a calculated analysis of supply and demand. In a perfect business world, there should be more demand than supply. The public's level of interest has demonstrated vouchers and charter schools are not in demand. Neither has met the annual minimal application threshold. This is more of an ideological political platform than a proven reform for our state. These are also imported reforms that have failed to shine in other states at a substantial level.

A few true reforms can make all of the difference for our state. First, build a single accountability model and lock it in for a five-year period. Give children and teachers a chance to have a consistent set of expectations. Second, use the ACT as a diagnostic tool to measure school performance and eliminate high school state testing. Third, increase the access to technology, bandwidth and wireless connectivity to our schools and create better 21st century learning environments. Finally, fully fund MAEP for at least five years and review performance at the end of those five years. The Legislature has never attempted to consistently fund the model set forth in law (MAEP) on a consistent basis. Full funding immediately impacts nearly one-half million students in our state on an annual basis.

The aforementioned legislative reforms have impacted less than 1 percent of the children in Mississippi during the last legislative term. Nearly 200,000 people signed petitions with the intent of fully funding our public schools last year.

The people believe full funding will make a difference in our national rank. It appears to be the only reform the current lawmakers have no intention of trying. If the Legislature can ignore 200,000 citizens who inhabit all parties of the political landscape, what constituency does the Mississippi Legislature represent? It is hard to buy computers, buses, resources, and repair buildings with good intentions. Funding, like SPED vouchers and charter schools, should be considered another tool in the toolbox of education. The difference is funding gives schools the autonomy to meet needs of students, not the ideology of legislators.

Please support the full funding of Mississippi public schools.

Wayne Rodolfich is superintendent of the Pascagoula-Gautier School District.