We The People | Summer 2018 Edition

School is back in session! Even if you don’t have children, you can look at any social media platform and get all in your feelings, like KeKe, watching proud parents and loved ones send their children off to school in new clothes and kicks. Some of the kiddos even hold signs to let you know what grade and school they’ll be in. Adorbs. As far away as I am from my first day of school, I remember the excitement, new outfits and smell of new shoes still in the box. When I got older, I hoped I would get all the classes I requested and the special teachers I just had to have because they were known for their special way of grabbing students’ attention … or letting you get away with things others wouldn’t. Those were the days. I wish this update was as rosy, but as I hold close to my memories, I wonder what memories children in school now will have to reminisce on when they transition to adulthood because things are a little scary.

This special edition of Under the Dome is all about education. Here are a few of the (true) things you hear often: Teachers are underpaid and overworked; schools, understaffed and overcrowded. Many of the GoFundMe campaigns launched by teachers aren’t for extras; they’re for basic things like classroom supplies. Experiencing a lack of resources, being subjected to confusing curricula and lacking the technology to keep up with peers in more affluent schools, has the potential to become a life sentence of endless consequences. Compulsive state testing and inaccurate accounts of history written in textbooks don’t help either. I could go on and on. Parents are left frustrated, while trying to make sure their children are getting the “adequate” education the Mississippi Legislature has promised them, hoping it will prove enough to ensure their children’s future bright and successful. This is the expectation, of course, when students are sometimes left to navigate subjects without full-time subject-certified teachers, school infrastructure crumbling and all. How on Earth did we get here?

When Did Education Stop Being a Priority for All?

In an effort to balance state and federal budgets, the government has placed education on the chopping block.  Is this “The Lost Decade” 74million.org asks about students. According to their findings, scores from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress remained stuck at roughly the same level they’ve been for the past decade, though small progress was made in 8th-grade reading. That. is. disturbing. But it gets worse. The article goes on to say “[O]ne notable trend has emerged: Scores for top performers have ticked up over the past few years while struggling students have seen their own scores decline.”

Let’s read between the lines. This is a case of the haves and have-nots. It also serves as an indicator that so many students who live in rural/poorer parts of this country will continue to see pervasive poverty, while the more affluent students are more likely to receive a plethora of opportunities. So in this system, education allows those that have to experience growth—well-rounded education with the necessary tools to compete globally, which will result in wealth to be passed on to their children and so forth. This is not what the Brown vs. Board of Education decision intended.

We have to take action before this gets worse. The Lighthouse staff and I will provide some guidance and tips as to what we as people, parents, teachers, students and/or concerned citizens can do in hopes of changing the outcomes for this and future generations.

Special Session, Nothing Special 

The Mississippi Legislature started a special session Thurs., August 22. If you heard or thought one of the reasons Gov. Bryant called the special session was for the Mississippi Legislature to discuss ways to fund education (namely how a state lottery might increase revenue for education), two things. You’re not the only one who thought that and you’re not the only one who … got … tricked. Yes, there was an opportunity for that. There still is but a reliable birdie—we trust our birdies—a lottery will likely never cover the education cost gap. What’s this special session and subsequent lottery going to pay for? Infrastructure. Roads and bridges. If you’re thinking “At least I won’t be dodging craters driving down State St.” But don’t put your driving gloves away just yet. Most of the funds will be diverted to municipal governments, and I wouldn’t hold my breath for … never mind.

There is one cool thing to note, though. Rep. Alyce G Clark, D-Jackson, who’s served in the House since 1983, has unsuccessfully authored bills for a state lottery for the past 16 legislative sessions. Because of that, the name of the bill (formerly Senate 2001) is now known as the Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Law.

The Betsy DeVos Effect

Here’s what we know about the U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos:

  • Comes from money; it is hard not to imagine the way her privileged upbringing has shaped most of her views.
  • Looking at her resume, Devos’ qualifications for the position are easily questionable.
  • At best, she is a school choice champion who has dedicated her voice and checkbook to the cause for more than a decade.
  • Her confirmation hearings left educators scratching their head, as she didn’t know or understand the constitutional rights each student is supposed to be afforded by law. Sheesh! She continued struggling through her confirmation hearings, stumbling through questions, when grilled by seasoned Senate members. The one that was most alarming was when she didn’t understand the basics around the law protecting students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • She passed the hearings anyway, and it was no surprise when she, almost immediately, struck out 72 guidelines labeling them outdated, unnecessary or inefficient.

She came in and wrecked right away. No surprise. So on to this most recent yacht debacle. Not that she is to blame, neither do I (necessarily) agree with breaking the law (there are exceptions: civil disobedience) but I may be able to understand why someone would untie Devos’ expensive yacht, sending it afloat on Lake Erie. Yes, that was cruel, but some may call it karma.

What could the thousands of dollars she uses to repair her yacht do in the lives of the children most impacted by her ill-informed educational policies? Don’t even get me started on her meeting with leaders from the historically Black colleges and universities then proclaiming the students at these institutions were examples of school choice. No, ma’am. Many had (and others, even now still have) no other choice because white institutions weren’t an option for all students. If Black people wanted higher education, the only “choice” was to build said institutions.

A recent USA Today article states the Department of Education is running like a K Street lobbying firm. The reason for that statement? We find ourselves with a new rule that favors predatory schools where students are graduating but not able to find gainful employment. DeVos claims if students aren’t finding employment, it’s because they aren’t good shoppers—her words. It is we the people who should go shopping for a new U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education!

Practice Saving Education and the Future for Children 

The responsibility lies on our shoulders. The opportunities for pro sports players, Instagram models, reality show stars are not as easy as they seem. As young and mature adults make decisions for our children there are a few things that we have to do that don’t involve listening to hours of talk radio or sitting in front of CNN, MSNBC or local news stations. They are more simple to do than we think and will help to better educate future generations and protect our civil and human rights. I hope you read through these with an open mind and if you find yourself stuck, reach out to The Lighthouse team! We don’t have all the answers, but we surely know people with answers and have made it their life’s work to share information.

Read this article about saving public education and think about employing one or more of these tactics in your local or state education committees, commissions and advocacy groups. Maybe they don’t all appeal to you, but I’m sure there is something in there that may strike a chord. We have to be the architects of our futures…or at least the parts we are able to change; watching from the sidelines is not going to move the needle. At least I’ve never known it to. We have to create a better way, for us, by us.

Until soon …

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