On Friday, The Clarion Ledger published an op-ed from Mississippi GOP executive director Spencer Ritchie which characterized the public school funding movement as a “false narrative” from Democrats. It was an odd choice of words from Ritchie, since the facts and statistics he used are a calculated distortion of the reality in Mississippi’s public schools.
The crux of Ritchie’s argument is that school funding is a partisan issue. This is a tired tactic used to rally loyal Republicans who may be confused about the issue, against the evil Democrats who typically advocate for higher taxes. Though most of the advocates for privatizing Mississippi education happen to be Republican, many of the pro-funding groups are bipartisan.
Ritchie’s funding statistics are correct. They’re also mere distractors from what’s really going on in our schools. Much in the same way a local church’s weekly offering and attendance tallies cannot truly replace the awareness you’ll get from actually attending a worship service, you cannot understand school funding accurately by staring at dollar amounts on a page.
For example, in Ocean Springs, short-funded schools have hit their cap on local taxes, but it’s still not enough; they’re still having to cut 41 positions. In Durant, teachers are up until midnight every night finding resources for their kids because they don’t have enough money for textbooks. In Carroll County, the superintendent cut his own salary from $85,000 to $18,000 to keep the schools afloat. That’s just three of more than 150 districts. The anti-funders never go into these statistics. The public would quickly realize the urgency of our needs.
Ritchie also offers a few past education initiatives as proof of support from his party. Several of these, such as charter schools and disability vouchers, are in fact privatization agenda measures which benefit from poorly-funded public schools. Mississippians for Initiative 42 do not doubt our leaders’ commitment to education. We doubt their commitment to public education. They seem hellbent on funnelling public money toward private schools, with thousands of Mississippi children suffering in the wake of their quest. In all their blustering about public school funds, you never get a clear picture of the true reality of our public schools. It’s almost as if their statistics are a… how would Ritchie say it? Ah yes… a false narrative.
If Ritchie is so proud of Condoleeza Rice’s proclaiming our state “the next great American success story in education,” on what is he basing that? Our graduates’ 50th ranking in earning potential? Our 49th ranking in dollars spent per student? Our status as 50th in high school performance?
Reality check, folks: Our schools have huge class sizes, inadequate resources, and school buildings are falling apart across the state. Tout whatever statistics you like, but the only thing that will fix the reality our students are in, is to fund our schools the full amount prescribed by law.