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Educators, parents rally for full school funding

Educators and parents nearly filled the Brookhaven High Schoolauditorium Thursday night during a grassroots rally to urge supportfor the full funding of the Mississippi Adequate EducationProgram.

“I do believe y’all have drawn the largest group – if not,certainly the most enthusiastic group – we’ve had in the state,”said Brad Pigott, chairman of the Coalition for Children and PublicEducation (CCPE), which sponsored the event.

Brookhaven was the eighth stop in a tour of 11 stategeographical regions for the CCPE.

The meeting received positive praise from educators.

“I think we need to support it and talk to our legislators. Thekids are our future,” said Janice Davis, a teacher at West LincolnAttendance Center.

Wilbert Green, a parent, agreed.

He said he had not given much thought to funding of the MAEPprior to the meeting. The event convinced him of the importance offulfilling the promise made in 1998 when the Legislature signed theMAEP into law.

“I got a lot out of it,” he said. “I think we’re going to haveto try to get (full funding). I’m with them 100 percent.”

Pigott, a McComb native and former vice chairman of theMississippi State Board of Education, said that based on thestate’s own formula for determining school performance, the statefalls below what it would it take to maintain a level three, orsuccessfully performing, school. Present state funding would beevaluated at level two, or underperforming.

Pigott answered critics of the MAEP, who believe educationalready receives too much of the state budget, when he said that”whether the MAEP is fully funded or not, we will still be ranked48th in the nation (in terms of per pupil expenditure).

“We don’t know what throwing money at education would do,”Pigott said. “We haven’t tried that.”

Dr. Sam Bounds, executive director of the MississippiAssociation of School Superintendents and former superintendent ofthe Brookhaven School System, agreed. He said 91 percent ofMississippi children attend public schools, accounting for morethan 500,000 students and employing thousands of people.

“It should be the largest percentage of the budget. We areteaching the future of this state,” said Bounds, alluding to 60percent of the state’s general fund budget being allocated foreducation.

Nancy Loome, executive director of the new Parents’ Campaign anda mother of three children in the Clinton school system, urgedthose in attendance to become active in supporting the program bycalling their legislators and voicing their opinion and attendingrallies at the state capitol.

She said when supporters call legislators, the lawmakers oftenask them where the state is expected to come up with the money tofully fund the program.

“That’s their job,” Loome said. “Your job is to communicate yourpriorities.”

The Parents’ Campaign was formed, she said, to provide parentswith a resource for information on how to contact their locallawmakers and keep informed of how their legislators voted oneducational issues.

Interested attendees last night filled out forms to enroll inthe Parents’ Campaign and took blank forms to distribute inclassrooms for students to deliver to their parents.

“I’m very impressed, and I’m excited about the information theycan provide us about how our legislature is voting,” said TinaMartin, a parent and teacher at North Pike Middle School. “Wereally do need the funding.”

Bill Sones, a Brookhaven businessman and former chairman of theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce’s IndustrialDevelopment Foundation, stressed the importance of well-educatedstudents entering the work force.

Stan Patrick, a Brookhaven School District board member, saidthe state needed to uphold its promise to provide teachers with thetools and resources they need to meet the academic goals setnationally and locally for students. When the MAEP is not fullyfunded, he said, the difference must be made at the locallevel.

The Rev. Winfred Frazier, pastor of Center Street Church ofChrist, raised eyebrows and caused some in the audience to shift intheir seats with his view on why the MAEP should receive fullfunding.

Frazier, a 21-year resident of Brookhaven and former substituteteacher for the Brookhaven School District, said more funding mightenable school districts to hire more men as teachers.

He cited statistics that show 89 percent of teachers are women.He said children in today’s world of questionable morals neededmore balance.

Boys are less likely to take troublesome paths if they areprovided male role models, he said.

“Children respond to a male figure. They need a male example,”Frazier said. “There is a necessity for a balance in our schoolsystem.”

The primary purpose of the MAEP is to insure that everyMississippi child is afforded an adequate educational opportunitywithout regard to where the child lives in the state. The programuses a formula to determine what amount of state funding should beallocated to education each year.

Legislators passed the program into law in 1998, but it has onlybeen fully funded once – in 2003.