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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Debate Over How To Improve Schools In Mississippi

In this May 2, 2012 photograph taken in Marks, Miss., a school bus is parked in Marks, Mississippi, a town of about 1,600 in the Delta. (Laura Tillman/AP)

In this May 2, 2012 photograph taken in Marks, Miss., a school bus is parked in Marks, Mississippi, a town of about 1,600 in the Delta. (Laura Tillman/AP)

In Mississippi, students regularly lack basic supplies, textbooks and access to science labs. Standardized test scores and graduation rates are among the worst in the country.

According to the Hechinger Report, the state has only fully funded its school system three times since 1997, and per-pupil spending is falling each year.

The biggest impact is actually bringing certified, qualified teachers to the Delta.

– Reva Pree,
principal

Politicians are divided over what to do: Democrats are calling for more funding, while Republicans aren’t sure that more money would help.

Reva Pree is the principal of Lucy Webb Elementary School in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenville. She says the funding shortfall is most apparent in her inability to hire experienced teachers.

“The biggest impact is actually bringing certified, qualified teachers to the Delta, to where we have to actually use personnel such as Teach For America,” Pree told Here & Now. “And we have a great turnover on them because they are only here for two years.”

However, Terry Brown, a Republican state senator says if schools are struggling, “they’re not doing something right.”

Brown doesn’t believe more funding will help struggling schools.

“We’re giving them money, but the grades just keep going down, down, down,” Brown said.

We’re giving them money, but the grades just keep going down, down, down.

– Terry Brown,
state senator

He is a proponent of charter schools in the state. The governor of Mississippi recently signed legislation expanding charter schools, as part of a comprehensive education reform package.

Opponents of charter schools argue they take away funding from already inadequately funded public schools.

“We are trying to do something with charter schools, and we have consolidated a couple of districts,” Brown said. “They can criticize us for a lot of things, but they can’t criticize for not trying different things.”

Meanwhile, Pree says the bad press about Mississippi schools, including those in Greenville, doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We have good students,” Pree said. “We have students who are going to college. We have a lot of people who have graduated from Greenville High School who are doctors and lawyers, who have come back to our district.”

Guests

  • Reva Pree, principal of Lucy Webb Elementary School in Greenville, Mississippi.
  • Terry Brown, Mississippi State Senate President Pro Tempore, representing District 17.

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