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Big Day in Mississippi

• Kate Wallace

Years from now, the 2013 Mississippi Legislative Session will be remembered for transforming education in the Magnolia State. The magnitude of what lawmakers in Jackson have accomplished cannot be overlooked.

If you’re a glass half-empty person, much was left to be desired when the final votes were tallied. In the charter schools legislation A-, B- or C-graded districts, unlikely to relinquish their monopoly over public education, will be free to veto a charter applicant for any reason.  It’s as if C-graded districts don’t have more children in failing schools statewide than F-graded districts (37,223 over 27,203, to be exact), or the parents of the 9,387 students attending a D or F school in a B-graded district are completely satisfied with the quality of their child’s education.

You may also be disappointed neither chamber seriously considered Governor Bryant’s proposal for low-income children in failing schools to receive opportunity scholarships to attend a private school of their choice.

However, if you’re a glass half-full person (like me), you will appreciate the comprehensive K-3 Literacy policy that was passed, complete with a hard-line-in-the-sand retention policy that ends the social promotion of struggling readers in third grade.  The policy also includes essential resources, interventions and training to help school districts offer four consecutive years of support and instruction every child needs, from kindergarten through third grade, to successfully read on grade level, with retention coming as a last resort.

There’s also a clear, student-achievement based school grading formula that is simple for students, parents, teachers and administrators to understand now on its way to being codified into state statute. And don’t forget the added bonuses: a phased-in voluntary pre-K program (the state’s first), a pilot merit pay program for teachers in select school districts, and strengthened teacher prep program admission requirements, among other reforms touted in Governor Phil Bryant’s “Education Works” agenda.

As Governor Bryant prepares to sign each of these reforms into law, he and all of the legislators who voted for them should remember, as Governor Bush routinely says, “Reform is never final. Reform is never finished.”

Here in Florida, more than a decade from taking the same initial steps Mississippi is taking in its education reform journey, we still have a long way to go in the way of reform and improvement. That’s why we press on for more choices, greater accountability for our schools and teachers, more rigorous academic standards, stronger parental rights, and for a digital revolution to be unleashed on public education.

I commend Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn, and the outstanding members of the Mississippi House and Senate who stood for children this session. Once Mississippians get a taste of more choices and stronger accountability, defending the status quo in public education will become increasingly difficult for many officials come election time.

About the author

Kate Wallace @kstreetfla

Kate serves as the Director of Community Engagement (North Florida) for the Foundation for Florida's Future (AFloridaPromise). Prior to joining AFloridaPromise, Kate served as Legislative Coordinator for The Fiorentino Group, a Florida government affairs firm based in Jacksonville. Previously, Kate served as government affairs assistant for the Washington office of Triadvocates, an Arizona government relations firm, and as staff assistant for the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., federal government relations office. As a college student, Kate interned for the White House in Vice President Dick Cheney’s Office of Domestic Policy and for former Florida Congressman Adam Putnam’s Capitol Hill office. A central Florida native, Kate graduated from University of Florida in 2007 with a B.S. in Public Relations. Contact Kate at