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Mississippi editorial roundup

June 26, 2019

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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June 26

The Greenwood Commonwealth on reportedly inflated graduation rates in the state:

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves maintains Mississippi’s graduation rate has risen to the national average over the past five years because the state has held students to higher standards.

“It’s really a simple solution as most effective fixes usually are: We’ve raised the level of expectations. We gave a goal. We set real consequences for failing to achieve it, and now Mississippi kids are learning more and learning faster than ever before,” he said in a talk to the Mississippi Press Association last week in Biloxi.

Reeves, who is running for governor, is right that the graduation rate has risen. It grew from 74 percent in 2014 to 84 percent in 2018.

He’s also right that the reason has been a simple one, but he’s got it backward about why. The state actually accomplished it by lowering expectations.

In 2014, the state Board of Education relaxed the requirement to pass subject-area tests in biology, algebra I, U.S. history and English II before graduating. Instead of insisting on that objective standard, the state has adopted some subjective alternatives, which has predictably resulted in steadily rising graduation rates.

There’s no way to spin that as anything other than lowering expectations. When asked if he could provide an explanation for why the graduation rate has improved other than watering down the subject-area passage requirement, Reeves could not provide a compelling answer.

Reeves is correct when he says the true standard of academic achievement is not standardized test results but what happens when students get out of school. One way to gauge that would be to ask colleges and employers about the students produced by the state’s high schools. We doubt you could find many admissions counselors or human resources professionals who would say high school graduates today are better prepared than in the past.

That’s the thing about lowering standards. It might make education bureaucrats and politicians look better, but it only makes things worse in the real world.

Mississippi politicians need to stop bragging about the inflated graduation rates and push the Board of Education to re-adopt the subject-area testing requirement so that the taxpayers and employers can get an accurate picture of whether graduates are really learning more or not.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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June 23

Daily Journal on Mississippi’s more than 100-year-old electoral laws:

Did you know that it’s possible for a candidate to receive the majority of the votes cast in one of Mississippi’s statewide elections and still not be declared the winner?

It’s startling, but it’s true thanks to an antiquated election law most Mississippians do not even know exists. And it’s time for the state to change it.

At issue is a clause from Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution that requires candidates for statewide office to not only obtain a majority vote but to also receive the most votes in a majority of the state’s House districts. If no candidate meets both thresholds, the election is thrown into the state House, where lawmakers will select a winner from the top two vote-getters.

The provision is not an issue in most elections, which is why many voters don’t even know it exists. But it certainly is conceivable that a candidate can win by a large margin in a heavily populated area, while losing numerous small, rural districts. In fact, it happened during three straight elections during the 1990s, as Mississippi Today’s Bobby Harrison has pointed out in recent reporting.

During the 1991 and 1995 lieutenant governor races, the candidate with the lower vote total wrote a letter to the state House conceding the election. The most high profile instance, however, happened in the 1999 gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Mike Parker. Musgrove won a plurality of the votes, but the two candidates spilt the state’s 122 House districts, throwing the election to the House, where the Democratic-controlled chamber declared Musgrove the winner.

Mississippi is the only state in the nation where a candidate can win a majority of the vote and not win a statewide office, and the reason is dubious. Multiple historic documents from the framers of the 1890 Constitution indicate Mississippi’s unique rule was created as a safeguard to ensure African Americans, then the majority in the state, were not elected to statewide office.

It’s a revolting, but true, remnant of our history, and it must be changed. In fact, a group of residents has currently filed a lawsuit to change the current system, saying it dilutes black voter strength.

In a sense, Mississippi’s system resembles the federal electoral college model, something we have defended in this space. And we continue to believe that such a model is needed on the national level to ensure candidates pay attention to rural states, rather than expending all of their focus on a handful of urban centers.

Such a model is not needed on the state level, where politics are much more localized. In a small state like Mississippi, there is no proper justification for such a system that takes power away from voters and gives it to state lawmakers.

Mississippi voters speak loudly when they cast their ballots for statewide officials. The state’s electoral system must always hear their voices.

Online: https://www.djournal.com

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June 25

The Vicksburg Post on the long future, and big price tag, ahead for fixing flood damage:

The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, in a call this week, announced damage to communities along the river from the ongoing flooding from Iowa to Louisiana — and elsewhere — is estimated to have reached $2 billion thus far.

Thus far is the key word in that statement.

The effects of the damage caused by the flooding, including the flooding in the Delta and the Yazoo Backwater Area, is of such magnitude, that it will take years to recover.

Right now, there is no way to estimate the economic impact of the agriculture fields and facilities that will be out of commission for one, to two, to three years of planting.

Right now, the price tag for the repairs to infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, itself might exceed $2 billion.

When it is all said and done, Colin Wellenkamp with the Initiative said, the amount of damage assessed might surpass that of the 2011 flood, which was more than $4 billion.

This slow moving prolonged natural disaster will impact more people, cause more damage and come with a far higher price tag than many of the hurricanes that have struck our nation. And, it will do all of this damage with far less fanfare.

The size and scope of this flood is beyond imagination. It has lasted longer, reached deeper into our communities than the 2011 flood and in many ways has surpassed what was called The Great Flood of 1927.

While recovery from this flood is yet to begin, given floodwaters remain over the farms, in homes and over roads, we must accept that it will take years and it will take more than we as an individual community can do. We need help and that help must start lining up.

The amount of damage is staggering and that is without knowing just how much damage there is. The cleanup and recovery will be far more staggering.

The price tag that will come with this disaster is impressive. Let us hope the support our community — and many others affected — receive is up to the task.

Online: https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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