Facts about Education in Mississippi

Posted 5/29/2015

Mississippi is considered very “business friendly” in almost every regard – except for our education system – and that is a significant disadvantage in economic development. Beacon Hill Institute’s thirteenth annual State Competitiveness Report ranks Mississippi 21st in government and fiscal policy, but 50th overall based on measures of human capital, with low rankings in high school and college attainment, fourth grade math proficiency, skilled labor, employment rates, and health of population. Likewise, Forbes’ Best States for Business ranks Mississippi 18th in cost of doing business but last (50th) overall due to poor rankings associated with education of the workforce and quality of life.

Student Achievement

Mississippi is 50th in national student achievement rankings. In 2013, the most recent available data, 21% of Mississippi fourth graders scored proficient or above in reading and 26% scored proficient or above in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card). Considerable improvement is needed if Mississippi is ever to meet her potential in terms of prosperity, economic development, and quality of life. It is important to remember that, as Mississippi students and teachers strive to improve, they are chasing a moving target. Students and teachers in other states are improving, as well. It’s hard to catch up, particularly given that students and teachers in other states are consistently provided much more in the way of resources and funding.

The good news: state test scores have improved dramatically in recent years, and Mississippi’s average ACT score has improved more than the national average over the last two decades. In 2009, there were more than 200 Mississippi schools rated F; today there are 24. Additionally, the number of schools rated A or B has more than doubled since 2009.

Mississippi’s experience shows that adequate school funding is correlated with achievement. Following full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) in 2008 and near-full funding in 2009, Mississippi students had the highest gains in fourth grade reading in the nation. As school funding declined in subsequent years, fourth grade reading scores tapered off at a similar rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the states that consistently perform the best in student achievement spend about twice per student what Mississippi invests. Mississippi is ranked 49th of 51 in educational attainment (percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree). (National Center for Education Statistics)

Achievement: What Works in Other Countries

According to eSchool News, Finland, Ontario, and Singapore have attained the highest and most equitable performance on international assessments. Five traits that contribute to their success are:

• A systemic, comprehensive approach to education.
• Extremely selective entry into teacher education programs. Finland selects just one of every 10 teacher education applicants; Singapore traditionally selects future teachers from the top third of high school classes; and the teaching profession is highly competitive in Ontario where graduate level preparation is the norm.
• Making teaching an attractive career choice – well-paid, highly respected educators stay in the profession instead of leaving for higher paying jobs in other sectors.
• Investment in continuous learning – all three jurisdictions provide considerable time for teachers to work collaboratively and learn together during the regular school schedule – as much as five times what U.S. teachers receive.
• Proactive recruitment and development of high quality leadership – school leaders are expected to be instructional leaders. They are expected to know curriculum and teaching intimately and be able to provide guidance and support to teachers.


State funding for Mississippi schools is determined by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), passed into law in 1997.

The legislature has voted to comply with this law and fully fund the MAEP formula only four times since 1997. During the recession, in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, school budgets were reduced mid-year, and so schools have only received full funding twice, in fiscal years 2004 and 2008. For the school year 2015-2016, the MAEP is underfunded statewide by more than $200-million. Since it was last fully funded in 2008, schools have been shorted $1.7-billion.

Mississippi ranks 48th of 51 (all states and D.C.) and last among southeastern states in per student funding, and the percent of Mississippi’s state budget allocated to public schools has shrunk significantly since 2008.

From Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2015, the total state budget grew by 30% while the K-12 budget shrank by 1%. Funding for the 2016-2017 school year will finally bring K-12 funding up to the level that was appropriated in the 2007 Legislative Session; the rest of the state budget exceeded the 2007 appropriation in 2011.

Mississippi ranks 50th in the nation in per capita income (Kids Count Data Book, Annie E. Casey Foundation). More than 230,000 Mississippi children live in poverty, and more than 100,000 Mississippi children live in extreme poverty. Research has shown consistently that at least 40% more in resources is required to bring children in poverty to the same level of achievement as children in non-poverty homes.

Mississippi’s own experience shows that adequate school funding is correlated with achievement. Following full funding of the MAEP in 2008 and near-full funding in 2009, Mississippi students had the highest gains in fourth grade reading in the nation. As school funding declined in subsequent years, fourth grade reading scores tapered off at a similar rate.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the states that consistently perform the best in student achievement spend about twice per student what Mississippi invests. The top five states in achievement rankings each spend, in state, federal, and local dollars, between $14,150 and $17,300 per student, compared to Mississippi’s $7,926.

Initiative 42

Outdone with the Legislature’s failure to follow state law and provide adequate funding to public schools as required by the MAEP, citizens of Mississippi last year launched an initiative to amend the State Constitution to guarantee every Mississippi child the right to an adequately funded education. Petitions to have the initiative placed on the November 2015 ballot were signed by almost 200,000 Mississippians.

Currently, Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution reads: “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”

Initiative Measure 42 would alter Section 201 to read: “Educational opportunity for public school children: To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance, and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”

During the 2015 Legislative Session, the Legislature passed the first-ever alternative-language challenge to a citizen-led ballot initiative. Alternative Measure 42A (the legislative alternative) reads: “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.”

Under all possible scenarios – passage of Initiative Measure 42 or Alternative Measure 42A, or failure of both – the Legislature will retain its authority and responsibility for appropriating state education funding. Should the Legislature fail to meet the requirements of the constitution, and should a suit be filed against the state for failing to provide an “effective” education to Mississippi children (as provided for in the legislative alternative, 42A) or an adequately funded education (as provided for in Initiative 42), the courts would weigh in to determine whether or not the Legislature is meeting its constitutional obligation and to enforce compliance with the law. State law sets venue in Hinds County for suits filed against the state. The final judgement for any lawsuit brought against the state would likely be determined, ultimately, by the justices elected to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Our state has three branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, to ensure a system of checks and balances so that no one branch gains disproportionate power to the detriment of the people. The judicial branch of government provides oversight to ensure that the Legislature abides by the law and the constitution.

Mississippi Teachers

Mississippi ranks 49th of 50 states in average teacher salary.

Countries with the highest student achievement rankings typically have very selective teacher education programs, selecting just one of every eight or ten applicants. These same countries also compensate teachers on a level that is comparable to the compensation paid doctors, engineers, attorneys, and other professionals.

Mississippi has for years had a significant teacher shortage. In Fiscal Year 2011, the number of teachers with alternative route certification exceeded the number of practicing teachers with a bachelor’s degree in education. Studies of Mississippi teachers have shown that alternative route teachers, on average, with the exception of Teach for America certified teachers, yield poorer student achievement than do traditional route certified teachers.

50% of Mississippi teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of teaching.

School Leadership

School leadership (principals, superintendents, school boards) is among the most important factors in student achievement. Excellent schools have excellent leaders, and excellent leaders yield excellent schools. (Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning, The Wallace Foundation)

Great superintendents hire great principals who hire and retain great teachers – the key to improving student achievement.

The administrative staff in a school building serves a critical role in curriculum and instructional leadership, implementing legislatively-mandated programs and accountability measures, coordinating student assessments and interventions, and managing student discipline and parent engagement.

Effective principals are instructional leaders. They ensure that teachers are well placed to optimize their strengths, and they help teachers identify weaknesses and address them through appropriate, targeted, professional development.

Great school leaders create excellent learning environments, ensure alignment of the curriculum throughout the entire school system, and provide teachers sufficient planning and collaboration time.

Mississippi has a significant shortage of school administrators.

Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards

The Mississippi Department of Education adopted more rigorous standards in 2010 in an effort to bring the achievement of Mississippi students in line with that of their peers in other states. The standards outline the skills that each student should master at each academic grade level in English/Language Arts and Math. The standards are not a curriculum. They do not dictate how teachers should teach the standards, and they do not prescribe texts or learning materials. Links to the specific standards can be found at http://www.tpcref.org/policy-issues/ms-ccrs/.

Early Childhood Education

In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature for the first time dedicated state funding to pre-kindergarten programs. Mississippi’s state funding for early learning programs totals $6-million, far below the early learning commitment of most states, providing high quality early learning for 1,789, or 4%, of Mississippi’s 40,733 four-year-olds.

Mississippi administered a kindergarten-readiness assessment to all kindergartners for the first time in the fall of 2014. Two-thirds of kindergartners scored below the benchmark associated with 70% mastery of the assessed early literacy skills.
Research has shown that when children are provided high quality early childhood experiences…

• They have higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21.
• Their academic achievement in reading and math is higher from the primary grades through young adulthood.
• They complete more years of education and are more likely to attend a four-year college.
• They are older, on average, when their first child is born.
Source: The Abecedarian Project; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In Mississippi, three times as many children are retained in kindergarten and first grade as in later grades. In the 2007-2008 school year, the cost of kindergarten and first grade retention was over $28-million.

Children who are retained in school are exponentially more likely to drop out. A child who is retained twice has only a 10% chance of graduating from high school.

In Mississippi, 71% of moms with children under five years of age are in the work force. Many early childhood programs are purely custodial rather than educational.

The new College- and Career-Readiness Standards being implemented in Mississippi call for reading fluency by the end of the kindergarten year. High quality early childhood education can help children develop the pre-literacy skills they will need to read fluently by the end of kindergarten.

Literacy-Based Promotion Act

The Literacy-Based Promotion Act, also known as the “Third Grade Gate,” was passed by lawmakers during the 2013 Legislative Session. The bill requires screening of all K-3rd grade students to identify reading deficiencies and requires that districts provide intensive reading instruction for those students who have deficiencies. The bill also requires the retention of any student who does not meet the cut score on a summative reading assessment at the end of third grade, unless the student has already been retained, is an English Language Learner who has received less than two years of instruction in English, or has disabilities that exempt the student from the statewide assessment program. Mississippi’s law omits important exemptions included in similar laws in other states with successful programs.

Students who do not pass the reading test the first time have two additional opportunities to take and pass it. The alternate assessment required in the law was not available to students in 2015.

Limited funding was provided to the Mississippi Department of Education to employ reading coaches to work part-time in the lowest performing schools and to provide training to teachers in kindergarten through grade three. Most school districts received no funding assistance and were not provided reading coaches.

Privatization of Public Education

Corporate interests and those seeking to privatize public education have pushed a variety of profit-driven reforms, including for-profit and virtual charter schools and state-funded vouchers to pay tuition at private and for-profit schools. For-profit and virtual charter schools rank among the lowest performing of all schools in both the traditional and charter sectors. Research has shown that gains in achievement for low income students receiving vouchers are about the same as, and sometimes worse than, the gains for comparable public school students, despite the fact that voucher schools are allowed to pick and choose their students while public schools accept every child.

Long-term studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, the oldest school choice/voucher program in the U.S., Cleveland, and the District of Columbia found “no clear advantage in academic achievement for students attending private schools with vouchers.”

Milwaukee, which introduced vouchers in 1990 and by 2014 provided them to 25,000 students annually, requires its voucher students to take the same Wisconsin state tests used in the public schools. This allows a comparison of private school voucher students and public school students, all of whom reside within the city of Milwaukee. Performance results from the 2013-2014 school year showed slightly lower proficiency rates for voucher students in both math and reading as compared to their public school peers.

A 2012 study of Florida’s tax credit (voucher) program showed that test score gains of voucher students were virtually identical to those of income eligible students remaining in Florida public schools.

In 2015, the Mississippi Legislature passed a voucher bill that provides state funding to pay tuition for children with special needs to attend private schools, though the private voucher schools are not required to provide special education services. No accountability measures that would allow the state to monitor the quality of education provided the voucher students were included in the bill.

Charter Schools

The most recent and extensive study of charter schools (National Charter School Study, CREDO, June 2013) found that:

• 25% of charters performed better in reading than their traditional public school counterparts; 29% of charters performed better in math
• 19% performed worse in reading than their traditional public school counterparts; 31% of charters performed worse in math
• 56% performed the same in reading as their traditional public school counterparts; 40% of charters performed the same in math

Another national CREDO study, released in January 2013, revealed the value of due diligence by charter school authorizers during the approval process and the importance of early identification of underperforming schools. The study also found evidence that slow growing charter schools – opening one grade at a time – produce superior results to faster growing schools.

Charter schools performed relatively poorly when:

• They competed with high performing traditional public schools.
o These charter schools yielded less academic growth than their traditional public school counterparts while diminishing the traditional schools’ resources.
• They were cyber-based.
• They focused on corporate profits rather than education.
• They served multiple grade spans.

A number of chartering organizations have very good track records and have been successful in moving low-achieving students who had been in low-achieving schools to higher levels of achievement. As with traditional public schools, the success of these organizations is almost universally due to excellent leadership.

Charter schools typically have not done well when attempting to compete with successful traditional public schools. Test scores of students moving from successful traditional schools into charter schools have, on average, remained equal to or dropped below those of their traditional public school peers.

Successful charter schools have, on average, significantly higher administrative costs than do their traditional public school counterparts. A study by Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel of Western Michigan University (Equal or Fair? A Study of Revenues and Expenditures in American Charter Schools) confirmed previous studies. Though their administrative expenditures are higher, charter schools, on average, spend less overall than traditional public schools: less on instruction, less on student support services and less on teacher salaries and benefits. Mississippi law provides charter schools in our state the same level of funding provided traditional public schools.

Some successful charter schools attribute their success, in part, to the use of non-instructional staff for all non-teaching, or administrative, functions, allowing teachers to spend almost all of their time teaching and planning for instruction. Such administrative tasks include student discipline, family outreach (parent instruction), data analysis, reporting, etc.

Another study out of Western Michigan (What Makes KIPP Work? A Study of Student Characteristics, Attrition, and School Finance, Miron, Urschel, and Saxton) found that, on average, KIPP schools spend $6,500 more per pupil than their local traditional public school district counterparts, though they typically spend less per pupil on instruction. The study found that KIPP schools’ achievement results benefit from a high attrition rate among their lowest performing students who leave the schools in high numbers mid-year and between school years.

The Mississippi Legislature passed a charter school law in 2013 that allows charter schools to locate without local board approval in school districts rated D or F. The statute established the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, which is tasked with awarding charters to applicants and overseeing charter schools. Mississippi law sets high standards that must be met in order for a charter application to gain approval, prohibits for-profit management of charter schools, and provides charter schools the same funding and resources that are provided to Mississippi’s traditional public schools.

School District Consolidation

Mississippi has an average of 3,382 students per school district, which ranks our state 27th of 51 in the number of school districts per enrolled student.

According to the Center for Policy Research (Does School Consolidation Cut Costs?, 2001), consolidation of very small school districts is likely to yield a cost savings, while combining large districts will likely increase costs. The optimal size for a school district in terms of efficiency is around 2,000 students. Combining districts typically yields the following cost savings:

• Combining two 300-student districts saves 20%.
• Combining two 900-student districts saves 7-9%.
• Combining two 1,500-student districts yields no cost savings.
• A combined 3,000+ student school district yields increased costs.

Consolidation of small school districts can cut costs at the local level; however, it will not reduce state funding requirements. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is based on per-pupil funding, and the base student cost will follow the student, regardless of the number of school districts. Consolidation of very small school districts can yield an increase in course offerings and additional opportunities for students.

Length of School Year – Other Countries

One of the most important factors in moving students toward higher achievement is time on task with a great teacher. Students need time to master new concepts and material, and low-achieving students need a great deal of time on task. Mississippi has one of the greatest proportions of low-achieving students of any state in the nation, and the U.S. has a greater proportion of low-achieving students than many other developed countries. Yet, Mississippi’s school year – the time students spend on task – is shorter than those of higher achieving countries. In recent years, there have been efforts made in the Mississippi Legislature to reduce the school year even further. (In the U.S., the minimum number of days required is determined by states, not the federal government.)

See below the average number of days in the school year in other countries.

Japan  – 243
South Korea – 220
Israel – 216
Luxembourg – 216
The Netherlands – 200
Scotland – 200
Singapore – 200
Thailand – 200
Hong Kong – 195
England – 192
Hungary – 192
Ontario, Canada – 192
Swaziland – 191
Finland – 190
New Zealand – 190
Nigeria – 190
France – 185
U.S./Mississippi 180