Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Education Puzzle

Mississippi has gone from next to last to LAST! Simply put, we can't get any worse.

Our education system is a mess. 90% of our students attend public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Across the state, the variation in quality is huge.

My daughter attended public school for all her pre-college years in Clinton, a top-rated program. She received an excellent education and was well-prepared for college classes. But Clinton is a town with above-average median household incomes and a supportive group of citizens.

Travel across the Jackson area and you'll find more of the same. In the towns of  Brandon and Madison, incomes and property values are higher than average. Support for the public systems is strong. Both have excellent schools, as well.

Head out into the county of Madison, and you'll find a different story. Drive a few miles down the road from Clinton to Raymond, and you'll see the variation. Take a drive into the Delta, and you'll find systems that aren't making the grade.

I understand that just throwing money at a school system is not the answer. More money does not, necessarily, mean better performing students. But I also know that our current funding system misses the point.

Schools in parts of our state with low-performing students that come from difficult family backgrounds need MORE time, attention, and, yes, money than those in nice, suburban Clinton or Brandon. But the structure of school funding in the state means that those with more just get even more, while those with less make do.

The issue of education funding continues to be clouded by our history. Desegregation led to a dual system of public and private schools in many places. In those systems where white families and white students remained, public schools succeeded. In areas where white flight led to largely African American students, public schools tended to falter. Those schools got the short shrift.

The change that came about due to Brown versus Board of Education has not been reversed here. In fact, it has become worse with black flight from blighted school systems. More and more African American families of means are moving to districts with good public schools. Who could blame anyone, black or white, from trying to provide their children with a good education?

But we're still left with a bunch of schools that are simply not cutting it. The students who need the most help are the ones stuck in poor-performing districts, and the result is a large number of our citizens without the education to help themselves or the economy of this state. What is there to do?

First, we must recognize the problems and their roots. Poor-performing districts should be handled aggressively by the State Board of Education. They should receive additional funding to address their added problems. While I'm not a fan of charter schools, some models may work better for these areas. We should consider using technology to deliver better instruction to these areas than can be efficiently delivered in the traditional setting. I wouldn't even oppose a type of boarding school for some students who lack support at home.

I think it's time for us to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Our poor educational system is leaving us on the bottom economically. It is resulting in two Mississippis-- one with hope and opportunity and one that is stuck and hopeless. When faced with this condition, what have we to got to lose? We can't get any worse. We're LAST!