Significant improvement in national achievement rankings will be attained only when all Mississippi children have access to a broad selection of rigorous and rich course offerings, highly-effective, well-trained teachers, and reasonable class sizes that afford them the individualized instruction they require. Adequate funding is essential to this process. Below are some concrete examples of the level of investment required to achieve even the most basic of improvements.
More Advanced Placement offerings $44,200,000
Mississippi’s new accountability model will grade high schools on the number of Advanced Placement (AP) classes they offer as well as the percent of students who take the classes and pass the national exams. Additional funding will be required to hire enough teachers (or provide the necessary training) for broad AP offerings and give students better opportunities to achieve college and career readiness and compete for college scholarships. If AP offerings are going to be used to grade schools, funding should be provided for a minimum of eight AP courses in every district. An increased investment of $44,200,000 will fund eight teachers and training in 100 school districts and will cover the cost of testing for 25% of currently enrolled juniors and seniors to take four AP exams each.
Updated textbooks $34,300,000
Basic funding is necessary to purchase updated textbooks in sufficient quantities. At present, many schools – including those in relatively affluent districts – do not have enough textbooks for each student to have his or her own, so students are not allowed to take textbooks home to study or to do their homework. Even when books are available online, they are not available after school hours to students who lack internet access and home computers. Many printed textbooks are out-of-date, such as history textbooks still referencing the Berlin Wall or the USSR. An additional investment of $34,300,000 will allow the purchase of one textbook per student for 70% of the students currently enrolled in Mississippi public schools.
Safer buses, shorter routes $7,770,000
Increased funding will make it possible for districts to regain some of the ground they have lost in transportation services. Budget cuts have forced districts to use relatively unsafe, aging buses and to stretch bus routes to a point that some children board buses around 6 a.m. and do not return home until after 4 p.m. Newer, safer buses will protect children while they are being transported to and from school and more buses/shorter routes will make their school days more productive. An additional investment of $7,770,000 will allow 75% of Mississippi school districts (111 districts) to purchase one new school bus.
Building repairs and maintenance $20,000,000
Because the state has not funded the building maintenance fund, school districts have had to use significant portions of their MAEP funding in order to repair and maintain their infrastructure. This has exacerbated the MAEP shortfall. The Mississippi Legislature should begin immediately to honor its statutory obligation to provide $20,000,000 annually to the state’s building fund, though this amount will not begin to cover the real cost of providing our children decent facilities in which to learn. Therefore, the Legislature should direct the State Auditor to conduct a thorough assessment of facilities maintenance and repair needs in each school district and report to the Legislature the investment that will be required to bring all school facilities to an acceptable standard.
Expanded foreign language offerings $5,000,000
Improved MAEP funding will allow districts to expand foreign language curricula and to provide the second, third, or fourth year of language that some colleges require for admission or for particular majors. Without a full course load of foreign languages available, Mississippi students are at a disadvantage when competing for college scholarships with students from other states where foreign languages are offered in complete, three- to four-year programs. An additional investment of $5,000,000 will allow the addition of one foreign language teacher in two-thirds of Mississippi school districts (100 districts).
Smaller class size, more individual attention for students $50,000,000
Returning to a more reasonable class size will give teachers time to focus more individual attention on students. Class size has crept upward over the last few years due to cuts in school funding that led to teacher layoffs and unfilled positions. Many schools report physics and calculus classes with 33-35 students or kindergarten classes with more than 30 children. MDE regularly receives waiver requests to allow class sizes to exceed the prescribed state limit. With fewer students assigned to each teacher, teachers will be better able to do more detailed data analysis, track students’ progress, and adjust instruction to address each student’s deficiencies. Large numbers in a classroom make this kind of individualized instruction virtually impossible to achieve and sustain. An investment of $50,000,000 will be required to replace the 1,000 teachers lost due to budget cuts since the 2007-2008 school year.
Reading coaches and training to improve literacy $140,113,000
With adequate funding, districts can direct more resources to literacy programs and provide crucial supports to help reading coaches and literacy initiatives succeed in all schools. MAEP dollars can extend the reach of the state funding allocated to the “Third Grade Gate,” giving schools more of the resources they will need to be effective in identifying reading challenges earlier and addressing them. An additional investment of $140,000,000 will provide per-student funding at the same level that Florida provided 13 years ago when that state began its successful literacy program.
Tutorial and intervention programs for struggling students $200,000,000
The state’s new accountability model places additional emphasis on students in the bottom 25% in the district on state tests. Districts will be penalized severely if they do not generate appropriate growth among those students. Thus far, no funding has been provided for that effort. Chronic underfunding of schools in recent years has caused a reduction in intervention programs designed to address this subgroup of students. An investment of $200,000,000 will provide one tutor/interventionist per 30 students for the lowest scoring 25% of Mississippi children. This is a resource-intensive but high-reward effort that must be funded if Mississippi is to advance academically.
More focused, in-depth professional development for teachers $3,300,000
The most important factor in student achievement is the classroom teacher. When teaching practice improves, student achievement improves. Mississippi school districts have reduced significantly or eliminated professional development for teachers due to underfunding. An investment of $100 per teacher will allow districts to provide deeper, more meaningful professional development particularly focused on raising teachers’ skill levels related to Common Core.
Field trips and enrichment activities $2,450,000
Some Mississippi children graduate from high school never having left the counties in which they reside. They have no idea of the opportunities that are available to them outside of their own communities, which limits their perspective as well as their aspirations. An investment of $5 per student would cover some transportation and program costs to give children, particularly in low-income districts, more occasions to see and experience the world beyond their own communities.
Extended day, extended year $145,517,000
Top performing charter schools and high performing countries have their students in class, on average, a minimum of 1,800 hours per year (9 hours per day, 200 days per year). This is 43% more time in school than students in traditional Mississippi schools (1,260 hours or 7 hours per day, 180 days per year). An additional investment of $145,517,000 would allow the bottom 25% of Mississippi schools to increase instructional time by 43%, bringing time on task in these schools more in line with what students experience in top performing charters and in schools in high performing countries.
Total funding required to provide all improvements listed $652,650,000