Improving Education in Mississippi

Earlier this week, students in University English I sections expressed interest in discussing ways to improve the quality of education in Mississippi schools. We moved in two directions: improving funding for education, and the ways private schools have affected the success of education.

Regarding the former: Mississippi spent about $8700 per pupil in the most recent collection of data offered by the Census Bureau. That’s less than every other state in the Deep South, and 46th nationwide, behind Idaho, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Mississippi legislators will not raise taxes to increase spending on education–or anything else–though growth in the state’s revenues has allowed for a $15000 pay raise for teachers. To make infrastructure improvements, districts must increase local millage rates. This works well for affluent districts. It doesn’t work at all for poorer ones. Regardless of increases in expenditures, though, it seems fair to ask whether or not schools can spend their money more efficiently, and whether or not their priorities are well placed.

Regarding the latter: private schools have been a fixture in Mississippi since Brown v. Topeka. Most of them have at least tried to atone for the race-based sins of their pasts. However, we may legitimately ask about the impact of such schools on K-12 education in general. But the issue is prickly. Why should parents with means send their children to schools that underperform?

(Full disclosure: my own oldest son attended both public and private schools; my youngest attended only the private school. I’ve seen the best–and the worst–of what’s available to them educationally. But incendiary dialogue won’t produce good results here.)

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10 Responses to Improving Education in Mississippi

  1. Skylar Nichols says:

    Coming from a small, public school in a poorer district, I have seen the effects of lower funding in education. The low funding in my district resulted in many setbacks and fewer opportunities for students. For example, my home school shared a Chemistry and Spanish teacher with another public school nearby, so we had neither class for a full school year. The funding we did receive was also spent with the wrong priorities in mind. While the sports teams could constantly upgrade their equipment and facilities, we did not have enough copies of “The Awakening” in my English class. Mississippi needs to change its system if it plans to have a better future. I believe that education is the first step to this and should be everyone’s priority, both schools and the state’s. I am not saying that we need to put all our focus on education and ignore other problems such as infrastructure, but these faults need to be addressed if we ever plan on advancing the state. The students in these public schools are the future voters, politicians, and workers of Mississippi. I feel that they should be prepared to make the changes that we need in Mississippi.

  2. Blake Cheater says:

    Education is the cornerstone of modern society. Without proper education, how could one expect Mississippi to thrive? If Mississippi wants to become competitive and attract businesses, schools need to improve. There are a variety of ways to do this: better allocation of state funds towards schools, new taxes, or a raise in the existing taxes. It is unlikely, but not impossible, the state would be able to effectively manage its money so that education improves. Raising existing taxes would anger the general population, and a republican governor would probably not want to do that. Creating a new tax in a new market could prove to be a viable option. The legalization of marijuana could provide a very large taxable market, and the money collected from that would surely be a sizable amount. Nevada legalized marijuana in 2016 to use the tax money for schools, however, none of the money collected then has actually made it to the school systems. Whether that would be the case in Mississippi is a different discussion, but if properly managed, it could really help public education.

  3. Emily Lin says:

    It is important for schools to improve in Mississippi, especially since Mississippi is one of the poorest states, if not the poorest, so improving schools will help young people be more capable of making beneficial changes in the future. I have never attended a private school, but if it is truly better than public schools, many people cannot afford it. As for public schools, I do believe that they invest in things to help students, but those investments can be costly and are not always helpful. In my old school, the classrooms started using Apple TVs and iPads to help us learn. Those purchases were pricey, but they barely helped students. I agree that having proper technology is important. However, funding can be saved on other things such as a cleaner environment to help students focus better in classes. One way to help schools that does not involve funding is to have teachers who really care in teaching students. Public education will not improve if teachers are not properly teaching because it would only confuse or bore the students. I have enrolled in classes in the past where we mostly watched movies and copied notes straight from the board with no explanation on what it’s about. I have had teachers who “taught” students by reading sentences word for word in textbooks in a monotone manner. If Mississippi really wants to improve schools, we need to first have more teachers who will help students perform at their best potential.

  4. Alexandria Kerr says:

    I have seen a few different perspectives through my time spent in Mississippi public schools (all of my life). I am from Horn Lake, if you don’t know it is pretty much a suburb of Memphis, and my school was better than most in Mississippi. My school had a some AP courses and advanced classes; however, you could tell that most of the staff at the school really did not care about the students. I think that one of the main problems with public school in general, including schools in Mississippi, is the focus on discipline rather than education. In nearly all of the GenEd classes, teachers were too busy yelling at rowdy students rather than teaching the ones who actually care. Also many schools in Mississippi put sports as a higher priority to academics, my home school included. I also knew a girl who originally lived in Horn Lake but then moved to a really small school in Mississippi and then moved back to Horn Lake. I had to help her in math class due to her not being taught many of the required concepts while at this school. She said that the teachers seemed to care, but in the end it did not matter. This difference in education clearly displays how important money is to the education system. I don’t really have an answer as to how to fix our state’s educational system, but what I can say is that money sure will play a large part in trying to fix the problems.

  5. Jordan Thompson says:

    The education system in Mississippi is a sad, sad case. I was lucky enough to come from a school that had adequate funding, put some were not as lucky. While more funding will help the poorer districts, I can’t help but worry that some schools use funding in the wrong areas. Many schools prioritize the funding of sports over the quality of the education. Also, many of the public schools (mainly in Harrison county) are obsessed with upholding every rule in the district handbook, instead of caring about if the student is learning or not. It seems as if these schools care what other people think about them, rather than what is actually going on in the school.

  6. Alexis Richardson says:

    Coming from the delta, I have seen inadequate school systems. I was fortunate enough to go to a private school, but I have friends who went to public schools. I remember hearing them tell me on multiple occasions that they did not have class because their teacher did not show up to school that day. Also, they told me that they did not have school books, that most of their school work was done on Ipads. When the school did receive funding, they put it towards their football and baseball teams. This is where our priorities are misplaced. Schools are giving the impression that sports are more important than education, and this is why many young people believe that going pro is the best way to make it out of the South. The only reason they maintain decent grades in school is because they are needed to receive scholarships for college. Schools also give the impression that sports are more important by providing free grades to star athletes. Instead of showing them the consequences of not doing their work, they give the best athletes free grades, so they will be able to play in that state championship game and make the school look better. I believe that we must first get our priorities straight and focus more on education rather than sports. Once we have done this, then funding will help better our education in Mississippi.

  7. Ethan Hill says:

    I fully believe the problem is where the money is going. Sports programs consume time, money, and most importantly, the attention of students. Of course we are focusing on money so I propose this. Players must pay any leftover balance left at the end of the year for operating cost, equipment, etc. not paid by admission sells and fundraisers. If you want to do something that not everyone is supportive of, then it should be at your disadvantage, not the taxpayer. I’m not saying sports should be outlawed, but that money in general should be redirected to the necessities and extracurricular should be paid at the expense of the student.

  8. Abby Strain says:

    Gaining education in Mississippi is fighting a war. I taught myself how to read at four years of age over my mother’s shoulder as she read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein out loud. My classmates weren’t able to read until we were nine, a whole five years later. I can accept that I am blessed by having a knack for learning and the innate desire to succeed, but I come from a family who barely makes it over the poverty line. I can tell you first hand that how much money you have directly affects the opportunities you have. I’ve been accepted into dozens of academic summer camps that I never had the chance to attend because my parents couldn’t afford to pay the hundred or so dollars it would cost to send me away for that week. The public high school I came from was in no way the worst in the state, but it was obvious to me how the lack of funding affected kids. Classrooms functioned off of textbooks that were older than I am and desks that my parents sat in before me. Our elementary school had toxic mold and the band was still wearing the same uniforms that they wore twenty years earlier. The fact that our football team got brand new locker rooms is an entirely different but equally as blood-boiling of a tangent that I could go on, but I don’t actually blame my home high school for focusing on the football players. To them, with our underfunded classrooms and low test scores, football had the most potential to get kids out of our town. No one on our football team would end up at Yale, but half of them might play for State. Scholarships earned from playing sportsball is still a scholarship, so why wouldn’t football be a focal point?The problem lies on a much more fundamental level: the state of Mississippi doesn’t give public schools enough money to go around.

  9. Gracie Rowland says:

    I moved to Mississippi from Dallas, Texas my freshman year. The shocking contrast between my old and my new school one was startling.
    My grandmother had wanted me to attend the local private school (my aunt teaches there), and I obliged blindly. It was founded as a bitter response to desegregation in 1964. Even our mascot name was embedded in a shameful history of racism; the word “patriots” references the white supremacist view that blacks are not “true Americans.” Many of my fellow classmates openly admitted that the only reason that they went to this particular school was because their parents didn’t want them attending Columbus High due to the high black population. Naturally, I was shocked and appalled. I couldn’t believe that awful and atrocious line of thinking could ever exist as an incentive for choosing a school. This isn’t to say that everyone there is a racist and an awful person, as I still have many close friends there who are in no way prejudiced, but this is to say that there is a problem.
    The entire setup of the school could be questioned thoroughly. The funding went toward a new football field and a vending machine for the boys locker room instead of replacing our dilapidated Algebra 2 books. The band, theatre, and choir programs were cut, while the football team was showered with more financial support than all of the other sports combined. Coaches were required to teach a class, yet many of them lacked qualifications or degrees, thus making the class a de facto study hall. The school had no AP classes, no newspaper, and nothing interesting whatsoever.
    You were only allowed to participate in one club, which met once every two weeks for thirty minutes. New clubs could not be formed and there were no leadership positions available. Basically, the school was a joke. I’m not hating on private schools across Mississippi, as I’m sure that many are the absolute paradigm of perfection, but I am pointing out flaws in the I attended. I have friends who have told me similar tales from similar schools, and I believe that there is an identifiable issue at hand. I think that public schools in Mississippi need waaay more funding, and I think that many private schools in our state are utterly pointless.

  10. William Shy says:

    Poor funding for education is a very real issue in Mississippi. In my home school, we did not have enough qualified teachers for math, English, science, and social studies. Several teachers committed fireable offenses but were not fired because there was nobody to replace them. Many schools allocate their funding towards sports teams instead of classrooms because sports are viewed as more important than education, or maybe because there already isn’t enough funding for classrooms, so students turn to sports to find some success. Schools could move funding from sports to classrooms, but then students whose main success is in sports would feel alienated. I think the state needs to move funding from other areas to education because education in the long term is most important.

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