Mississippi editorial roundup
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on teacher pay and teacher strikes:
Mississippi’s teachers are underpaid.
The state’s educators are among its most important employees, given the impact they have in preparing Mississippi’s future generations. As we’ve written many times before, the state must continue to do more to fairly compensate them, to attract more people into the profession and to retain its high quality educators.
That said, we do not believe a teacher strike to be the correct approach.
There have been reports that Mississippi teachers are considering a strike in response to frustrations that arose during the 2019 Legislative session. Those include a teacher pay increase that was smaller than many hoped it would be, as well as a last-minute action by lawmakers to add funding to a program that provides state-funded scholarships to parents of special needs students for private schools.
And while we understand their emotions, responding by striking would be an inappropriate mechanism. It would disrupt educational environments, significantly harm students and parents throughout the state, and risk shattering the goodwill that teachers have built.
Bear in mind those who would be most hurt by the strike would be students, who are trying to finish the school year on a strong note, and parents. A teachers’ strike would impact hundreds of thousands of parents throughout the state - many of whom have not received pay raises themselves - who would be sent scrambling to find last-minute childcare. It would risk inciting significant backlash from the very taxpayers who fund their salaries.
The only previous time Mississippi teachers have gone on strike came in 1985 when they were protesting a lack of support from Gov. Bill Allain and the Legislature for a proposed $3,500 pay increase. More than 9,000 teachers walked off their jobs across 58 of the state’s 154 school districts, according to Education Week, with the action resulting in an eventual $4,400 pay raise that was phased-in over three years. However, it also led to legislation making it illegal for Mississippi educators to go on strike.
Teachers had much hope going into this year’s legislative session, with most pundits believing election-year politics would yield them a pay increase. It did, but the final $1,500 raise was much smaller than the $4,000 over two years that had passed through the state House.
Mississippi ranked last in the nation for average teacher salary with an average of $42,925, according to a 2018 survey by the National Education Association. As we’ve written before, we believe raising teacher pay must remain an annual priority for lawmakers until salaries are equal to and above the Southeastern average.
There is a growing public consensus that the state must pay its teachers more, and teachers should continue to leverage that. But they should not do so by going on strike.
The Vicksburg Post on improving city’s aging infrastructure:
Last week, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. proposed a plan to use more than $800,000 in state money as the foundation for a comprehensive capital improvements plan to pave streets and improve Vicksburg’s aging infrastructure.
Vicksburg is expected to receive about $820,000 from the state to use for street repairs and for water and sewer infrastructure needs. The money was included in a bill approved by Legislature at its August special session to divert revenue from sales tax collected on Internet sales to cities and counties for capital improvements.
The mayor said he wants to take that money and “maximize” it to create an infrastructure program for the city.
“I’m looking at trying to have a financial advisor look at that money and see whether or not we can structure it where we can borrow long-term money against it without hurting our constitutional cap,” he said.
It sounds like a good idea. It doesn’t take long to drive along city streets to see that despite spending about $8 million to pave city streets over the past four years we have a lot more streets that need to be fixed and repaved. And there are the problems we can’t see in the city’s water and sewer systems that also need immediate attention.
Vicksburg may be out from under its consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, but city officials still have to continue photographing, mapping, assessing and repairing and upgrading our 112-year-old sewer system.
Our water distribution system needs upgrading and the city has yet to award bids for the construction of an auxiliary waterline.
All of these projects need money, and the city is restricted on how much it can borrow in general obligation bonds.
Finding a way to fund infrastructure and paving without jeopardizing our borrowing capacity is something the mayor and the board should consider.
And the mayor seems to want to go in the right direction.
The Enterprise Journal on segregating public schools:
A story about the Brookhaven School District by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting makes plain the two methods of segregating public schools.
There is the 1969 method, when the U.S. Supreme Court, weary of foot-dragging by many Southern school districts who feared the 15-year-old Brown v. Board of Education ruling, ordered immediate integration. This led to the 1969 and 1970 establishment of private schools in the state as many whites immediately left the public schools.
Then there is the modern method, a drama that has already played out in many towns across the state and may be coming soon to Brookhaven.
This method is comparable to a slow leak in a balloon, but the long-term result is the same: too few white students.
The federal government plays a role in this through the U.S. Department of Justice. For years their attorneys consistently have convinced judges that public schools are using illegal methods to keep white parents happy. But their remedies have encouraged white families to abandon ship, thus producing the exact segregation they claimed to oppose.
In Brookhaven, 35 percent of students are white — a fairly sizable figure for a municipal school district in this part of the state. (By comparison, McComb’s student body is about 7 percent non-black.) One reason for this, according to the MCFOI story, is that Brookhaven still allows elementary school parents to request teacher assignments for their children.
While both black and white parents make these requests, the end result is classrooms of mostly white students, while others have only black students. The Justice Department, if it has not already, is sure to question whether this creates the legally required equity in schools.
The honest answer probably is no — even though it is reasonable to assume, as a black parent said in the MCFOI story, that many black families want their children grouped together or under the instruction of a black teacher.
But if the experiences of other school districts around the state are any guide, including McComb about a decade ago, Brookhaven will agree — or be forced — to change its elementary classroom assignments to a system that, over time, will discourage white families from enrolling at the elementary schools.
That is the modern method of segregation in action: Brookhaven’s percentage of white students will slowly decrease until the district is 90 percent black. That in itself is not a bad thing, but such an imbalance meets no one’s goal of an integrated school, with children from different backgrounds learning together peacefully.
Maybe Brookhaven can figure a way out of a dilemma that has eluded so many other districts. It would be nice if the Justice Department acknowledged the evidence of its handiwork and allowed some elementary school experimentation, but that’s unlikely.
The more realistic chance of success will be in appealing to white Brookhaven parents to stick with the public schools. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is. Most parents today have education options, and it’s clear that the feds are the only ones who refuse to understand that.