Schools, others now operating under new laws

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, July 8, 2012

For many people, July 1 passes with an eye toward the Independence Day holiday and a day off from work.

     For those in state government, the day means the start of a new fiscal year and the taking effect of new laws that were passed by the Mississippi Legislature earlier this year. Many laws passed by the body took effect upon Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature, but others did not become active until this past Sunday.

     For parents and others interested in their local school districts, perhaps the most significant new law is one that changed the ways schools and districts are labeled in evaluations.

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     Under Senate Bill 2776, gone is a rating system that categorized schools and districts as being from Star to Failing. Several points in between, such as Successful or Academic Watch, could have left some uncertainty over how well school entities were actually doing.

     In its place is a five-letter grading system including A, B, C, D and F. Much like students receive in their own classes. The new category labels should be clearer and less confusing than under the old method.

     “With this, everybody knows what an A is,” said Jon Kalahar, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education.

     Kalahar said MDE supported the ratings system change and the state board is working to transition to the new ratings that will be used for the first time later this year. While a school or district currently deemed Successful is not expected to grade worse than a C or a B under the new system, Kalahar indicated more poorer-performing entities could find their way into the F category.

     Kalahar said MDE has held regional meetings with superintendents to update them regarding new legislation approved earlier this year. Another new law passed this year called for the later start of school, although that change will not be seen until 2014.

     Several other education-related laws went into effect July 1.

     Among them are a law to require dyslexia screenings in grades 1 through 6 and another calling for school boards to conduct annual evaluation of their superintendents. On the higher education level, the College Board was given the authority to waive out-of-state tuition for the state’s eight institutions of higher learning.

     Of regional note, Natchez and other tourism destinations can hail passage of a law ending the state’s three-day waiting period for marriage licenses. Officials contend the change will encourage more marriage-minded couples to visit their areas, which can mean increased revenue from sales tax collections and other sources.

     A little closer to home, lawmakers approved the naming of a section of Interstate 55 in Copiah County in honor of Robert Johnson. Community officials are working to boost tourism opportunities in connection with the legendary bluesman and the section naming hopefully will give a boost to those efforts.

     Other, more ballyhooed laws, including one allowing for the sale of higher alcohol content beer, are also now in effect.

     Many Mississippians may not see the impact of the new laws on their everyday lives, but those directly impacted by them hopefully will welcome changes that will be for the better.