Cutting MSA, MSMS would be a mistake

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 10, 2005

State lawmakers began their 2005 session last week staring at anearly $1 billion budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, andgrasping at straws to make up the shortfall. Few programs are offthe table when it comes to facing potential cuts.

Among programs lawmakers continue to consider cutting are theMississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven and the MississippiSchool for Mathematics and Science on the campus of MississippiUniversity for Women in Columbus.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer,D-Montrose, told another Mississippi newspaper that although he’dsupported MSA and MSMS in the past nothing was sacred. He added -incorrectly – that most states don’t even have math and science orarts schools.

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Closing – or even cutting funding to — either of theseresidential high schools for our state’s best and brighteststudents would be a mistake.

The two schools add to the quality of education in our state byoffering programs – in a public school setting — that talentedstudents may not be able to get in their home districts. Critics ofpublic education often are loath to pump money intogovernment-funded schools, citing a perceived lack of qualityeducation. With MSA and MSMS, this argument falls flat, as there isno question of the level of education these schools provide.

Compared to so many other state agencies and programs, the artsand math and science schools provide a vastly greater return fortheir investment.

Area officials said last week that MSA is more to our area thanone of the best educational opportunities in the state. It alsorepresents a major economic force in our community.

The school draws in the best teachers and best students, whichsets our community apart, potentially enticing business andindustry to locate here. Officials say both businesses and familieshave come to call Brookhaven home because of MSA’s location here.As a community, we cannot allow that draw to be taken from uswithout a fight.

Some have suggested that MSA and MSMS should begin chargingstudents tuition based on need. Even some lawmakers who haveexpressed their support for keeping the schools open back thisidea, and while it may not make a huge impact in the state’soverall financial picture, it may be good for appearances – showingthat the schools and their students and parents realize the valueof what they have and are willing to sacrifice some to keep a goodthing.

We realize the state of Mississippi is in dire economic straits,but the state and our community have invested too much time, effortand money in MSA to let it slip away, just as Columbus, LowndesCounty and MUW have invested much in the math and scienceschool.

If there are legitimate cuts that can be made withoutendangering the quality of education and programs offered at thetwo schools, then make them, but we cannot throw the baby out withthe bath water, becoming so caught up in the euphoria of cuttingcosts that we fail to protect our investment.