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MSA move bill death allows for education focus

As the clock struck midnight this past Tuesday, a key deadlinepassed and yet another effort to move the Mississippi School of theArts to Columbus was struck down.

This was the third serious attempt to move it from the Brookhavencampus in as many years, but yet just one more notch in the belt ofa school that has defied the odds since it opened in 2003.

With this year’s effort gaining no steam, hopefully it signals anend to the efforts to pull the plug and will allow the schooladministration to get off the reactive tact and become proactive.It is hard to create a work of art, reach an altissimo note or do apirouette when someone keeps distracting your attention with otherissues.

From the beginning, the plan has been to supplement the statefunding of the arts school with fundraising efforts fromindividuals and foundations with ties to the performing arts. Whilesomewhat successful in the beginning, fundraising became impossibleas potential donors questioned the wisdom of investing in aninstitution continually under the threat of closure.

House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, told ushe did not feel like a battle this year and let the bill disappearunder the House deadline. Brown praised the efforts of MSA butbelieves the per-pupil cost is too high and cost efficiencies needto be reviewed.

Since its earliest days, opponents of MSA have tried to compare thecost of the school of the arts to a traditional school – not takinginto account the cost of feeding and housing students 24 hours aday. Due to the mission of both the Mississippi School of the Artsand Mississippi School of Math and Science, the per-student cost ishigher, but so too is the level of education they provide.

Then some question the need for arts curriculum in general. Thequick answer is in the amount of scholarship dollars received byMSA students.

In 2010 MSA graduates received $2.46 million in scholarships. Theyears prior had similar amounts that equaled or exceeded theschool’s annual budget!

If graduation rates are a judge of investment quality, MSA with its100 percent graduation rate and 95 percent college retention ratesince opening have to give it a AAA rating.

In these lean budget times, every expense must be justified andschools like MSA and MSMS must toe the expense line just liketraditional districts. Financial stats show both schools are doingjust that, while allowing their students to accomplish the specificgoals of each school.

The arts education community of Mississippi and the folks here inLincoln County can feel a bit more secure that maybe MSA has turneda corner and reached the next tier where students and teachersalike can put their attention where it is most needed – educationand building on the investment the state has placed in thefacility.