Good public schools and vibrant communities go hand in hand.
Bill Jacobs, former publisher of the Brookhaven Daily Leader, articulated this in the following statement issued by the office of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann who recently appointed the former publisher of the Brookhaven Daily Leader to the State Board of Education:
“The foundation of every community is its public schools. Look at the prosperous communities across the state and one will find a single common element — strong public schools. Mississippi has had some great successes but so too failures. The current brain drain of many of our best and brightest to other states is the most disturbing failure for its continued path weakens even our best school systems. These are challenging days for our state and I look forward to joining the others on the board to find credible solutions.”
A cursory glance around Mississippi supports Jacobs’ assertion that public schools and communities are linked.
The locations that are home to the best schools showed population growth in the 2020 Census.
Not all, but many of the locations that suffered population loss — as did the state as a whole — have less than stellar schools.
In 2019, U.S. News And World Report ranked in this order what it assessed to be the top 10 high schools in Mississippi: Lewisburg High School in DeSoto County School District at Olive Branch; DeSoto Central High School at Southaven; Pass Christian High School; Oxford High School; Hernando High School, in DeSoto County School District; Center Hill High School, DeSoto County School District at Olive Branch; Ocean Springs High School; Petal High School; Oak Grove High School in the Lamar County School District; Gulfport High School.
The cities or counties of all of the above schools showed population growth in 2020. DeSoto, the county with the most population growth in the state, is home to four of the top 10 rated high schools.
Admittedly, other factors figure into population increases and decreases.
Being close to a big city helps; DeSoto County, is just south of Memphis. The county’s schools are probably a magnet for many families who work in Memphis.
Being home to a major university are factors in the growth of Oxford, Starkville and Lamar County west of Hattiesburg, as well as Petal on the east.
Maybe it could be debated whether otherwise vibrant communities produce good schools or good schools attract citizens that make good communities. Probably it’s some of both.
At any rate, as Jacobs’ statement said, the most prosperous communities in the state have the best schools.
What’s badly needed in this state is better schools in the rural areas and small towns that are experiencing no growth.
To be sure some of the localities that have failing schools have large segments of the population with little education themselves and not much appreciation for it. Demographics obviously play a role in this picture.
But most rural districts don’t have the tax base to afford what’s needed.
That’s why it’s a shame that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program has only been fully funded twice since 2003.
MAEP is a model used to provide the state’s share of basic funding to pay for the operation of public schools with the poorer districts getting a larger share.
Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn don’t agree on a lot of things, and some pundits are even speculating that Gunn may be considering running against Reeves for governor next election.
But they do agree on wanting to eliminate the state income tax which probably isn’t going to be the panacea they predict.
They should first fully fund MAEP.
Meanwhile good luck to Bill Jacobs and the others on the state board of education that sets policies for Mississippi public schools.
They have a tough job.