Last year, Gov. Phil Bryant announced his plans for education reform at Northwest Rankin High School. One year later, he returns to the Rankin County School to sign "Education Works" legislation into law.
The legislation included four bills that will create charter schools, give incentives to Mississippi students who pledge to teach in state, target the literacy of third-graders and help struggling school districts find new solutions
"The changes enacted by this legislation will help the state create and retain the best teachers, create public charter schools of excellence that will help give students in failing schools access to higher quality education, and create reading practices that will stop the exercise of social promotion," Gov. Phil Bryant said. "Today's restructuring of the education system will help Mississippi move forward for many generations to come."
Gov. Bryant's "Education Works" reform measures were adopted by the Legislature in four bills.
Senate Bill 2658 creates scholarships for students with a 3.5 high school GPA and a 28 ACT score who wish to become teachers and commit to teaching in a Mississippi public school for five years. The legislation establishes funding for 200 scholarships for students choosing to enter education and offers an additional $6,000.00 stipend for those who agree to teach in critical needs areas.
Kaylee Craft, a student with a 28 ACT and a 3.98 GPA who has been watching this legislation, is excited about its passage saying, "I know I keep saying this, but I am very excited about this bill and the opportunity I may have ahead. I was just a regular person following a bill in the legislature that I thought would make Mississippi better and its education programs and possibly help me with my schooling! Now I get to apply for a scholarship to become a teacher and meet the Governor! I really can't believe it all."
Senate Bill 2658 also requires districts with graduation rates of less than 80 percent to submit a restructuring plan to the Mississippi Department of Education. A pilot study in Performance Based Compensation is also included and will be tested in four districts including Rankin, Lamar, Clarksdale and Gulfport.
"Of course, paying teachers more money will continue to be a priority, and the information learned from this pilot will provide valuable data as to how we can effectively pay good teachers more money," Gov. Bryant said.
Gov. Bryant's "Third Grade Gate" literacy measure, Senate Bill 2347, will improve literacy achievement by ending social promotion of third grade students who are not reading on grade level. The measure allocates resources to schools to screen students' literacy skills and provide those who are struggling with additional reading help, including the assistance of trained reading coaches. K-3 teachers and administrators will participate in training on best practices for reading instruction.
"State tests show that nearly half of all third graders are not proficient in reading based on state testing," Gov. Bryant said. "We also know that lack of reading ability increases a student's likelihood of dropping out and increases the likelihood he or she will need public assistance. There are children in Mississippi schools right now who are struggling with reading. This legislation will help identify those students' reading deficiencies as early as Kindergarten, and teachers will be able to help now, well before third grade. This literacy legislation is transformational because helping a struggling child learn to read will truly change his or her life--the most important thing we can do."
Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and founder and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education agrees saying, "Governor Bryant and state legislators acted boldly for Mississippi's children. They are paving the way for an education transformation through reforms such as school choice, ending social promotion and providing intensive remediation for third grade students who struggle to read, and grading schools using a clear, transparent formula. These reforms will reorganize Magnolia State schools around what matters most -- student learning."
Improving teacher quality is also a central focus of Gov. Bryant's reform agenda. Senate Bill 2188 increases standards for entry into teacher education programs at Mississippi universities. To be admitted students must have a 2.75 GPA on pre-major coursework and either score a 21 on the ACT or pass the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators assessment.
The final portion of Gov. Bryant's "Education Works" legislation included House Bill 369, which expands opportunities for the creation of public charter schools in low-performing D and F districts and is a solid step toward increasing school choice for Mississippi families. Districts rated A, B or C can choose to prohibit charter schools.
"I believe public charter schools will help Mississippi's educational challenges, and I have a simple belief that competition is an innovative way of introducing new ideas to the classroom," Gov. Bryant said. "Fortunately, this new charter law will present an option for parents to enroll their children in engaging and effective instruction and expose them to culture of achievement that inspires students to aim high. If public charter schools give a child yet another opportunity to succeed, we all will be better in Mississippi."
Additional "Education Works" reforms included:
* Directing $6 million to Teach for America.
* Directing $3 million to continue early childhood education efforts conducted by Mississippi Building Blocks.
* Directing $1.8 million to LifeTracks, a data system that provides statistics on student achievement.
* Directing $300,000 to training for Dyslexia professionals.
* Directing $22.6 million to the National Board Certification program.
* Directing $250,000 to help high school students obtain work certifications.
* Directing $1 million to dropout prevention and intervention efforts conducted by Jobs for Mississippi Graduates.
Senate Bills 2188, 2347 and 2658 are endorsed by the Mississippi Board of Education and the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents.