New report launched: Transforming Mississippi Public Education

By Douglas Carswell
January 27, 2022

Too many Mississippi kids are missing out on a good education. Our state has some of the worst outcomes in primary and secondary education in America.

Despite certain counter claims by those within the education bureaucracy that the outlook has been improving, if you measure the academic performance of Mississippi students in terms of ACT scores, things have not been getting better. In fact, the Covid crisis is likely to have made things even worse. 

So, what can we do about it? Quite a lot, actually.

Our new report out this week, Transforming Mississippi Public Education, proposes a series of key reforms that are needed if we are to give Mississippi students a better standard of education.

We all know that many Mississippi school districts have been underperforming for years. But until now, every time that this gets pointed out, the conversation moves on to money. If only there was more funding, we are constantly told, things would be better.

Our report shows that the problem is not a lack of funds. Over the past twenty years, real spending per student has increased by a quarter, and over the past thirty years, per student spending has risen about 60 percent. The trouble is that there has been nothing like a 60 percent improvement in standards.

The problem is not a lack of funding, but rather what the education system does with the money they have.

The graph above shows that while per student spending rose, teacher pay actually fell. In other words, money is not being spent in the classroom.
To be clear, some school districts in our state are good at using the resources they have to provide excellent education for children. Many are mediocre. One or two are truly terrible.
We need reforms that ensure that the poorly performing school districts run their schools the way that the good performers. Our paper proposes three key changes that would help us do that.
1. Cap administration costs: It is easy to assume that some school districts do well because they have the local property taxes that generate the revenue they need. It would also be wrong. The problem is not a lack of money, but what certain boards do with it. Too many boards spend enormous amounts on school superintendent salaries and other administration costs. We propose capping these so that more money ends up in the classroom, not as a giant job creation scheme for officials.
2. More charter schools: Evidence from across the USA is overwhelming. Having more Charter schools drives up standards.  Charter schools don’t only improve outcomes for those that attend them. Having them encourages non Charter Schools to raise their game.
With less than half of one percent of Mississippi students enrolled at a Charter School, we are missing out.

We propose creating multiple Charter School authorizer boards to overcome official inertia that has thus far prevented the establishment of more than a handful of such schools. If a public sector monopoly won’t act in the public interest, it should no longer be a monopoly.

3. Open enrollment: At the moment, kids in our state are allocated a place at a public school based on their zip code. Automatically allocating your child to a certain school means that schools have little incentive the improve. Our report suggests that this is the root cause of the problem in our public school system – and we need to fix it.

Giving every family in our state a new legal right to choose where to enroll their child would mean that schools in poorly performing districts would risk losing students – and so might have to up their game.

These are practical steps that policy makers could implement right away. They would not cost more money, and we would not have to wait approval from a federal official in DC.


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