Mississippi editorial roundup

Posted November 23

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


Nov. 23

The Sun Herald of Biloxi on governmental transparency:

We agree with Gov. Phil Bryant. An open government is a better government.

But that's not always the way government, particularly Mississippi government, works. Too often, government officials' knee-jerk reaction favors secrecy. Too often, government resists attempts by its citizens to obtain records that would reveal how government works.

The EdBuild contract is the most-recent example. EdBuild is advising the Legislature, at taxpayer expense, as that body considers whether to overhaul the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. At least that's what lawmakers who entered into the contract say it is doing.

Few have seen the contract between the Legislature and EdBuild. The House wouldn't let Mississippi Today reporter Kate Royals have it. For a while, it wouldn't let state Rep. Jay Hughes see it.

Rules adopted by the House Management Committee this week allow members to look at such contracts but forbid them from telling the public what's in them.

Read more here:

It's no wonder state officials are so touchy about the subject of MAEP. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have routinely failed to live up to their own law and adequately fund public education. In fact, it has met the law's standard for education funding only twice since the law was enacted in 1997.

When lawmakers allowed the public to weigh in on MAEP this week, a lot of people told lawmakers to give schools more money and leave the formula alone.

Oh, and they aren't fans of secrecy, either.

"Secrecy has never been our friend, particularly here in Mississippi," said Carrie Barksdale, a parent from Madison, according to the Associated Press. "We have a long history of hiding things and pretending."

EdBuild is supposed to submit its recommendations by the end of the year. The next legislative session begins Jan. 3.

EdBuild's recommendations should be public. We hope that happens before the height of the holiday season. We hope lawmakers don't rush to judgment early next year before the people they serve have had a chance to study the proposals and tell their representatives and senators what they think of any proposed changes.

The recent election, and the comments of parents at the EdBuild hearing, show people don't exactly view the government as trustworthy.

That's a problem for government. And secrecy won't solve it.



Nov. 20

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo on STEM teaching and research:

Mississippi's four largest universities have beefed up their ability to compete in the tough academic world of STEM teaching and research, the application of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Mississippi State University, whose Bagley College of Engineering is among its largest divisions, arguably is best prepared to meet the challenge of advancing and expanding STEM education as a national priority.

Just last week, it was awarded a $900,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to pursue better middle-school teaching and learning skills in Mississippi's public schools.

The funding will support a three-year interdisciplinary partnership with university colleagues in the College of Engineering, Department of Biological Sciences, Office of Research and Economic Development and the Research and Curriculum Unit.

The goal is to enhance the educational preparation of a diverse student population to make high school course selections that lead to positive career decisions by strategically fusing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with curriculum.

Similar initiatives have been undertaken at the University of Mississippi, Jackson State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The Ole Miss effort seeks to mark UM as a regional leader in STEM education, with a goal of increasing the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The Innovations in STEM Education Initiative includes scholarship support, greater emphasis on scientific literacy across disciplines and expanded facilities for teaching and research. The university has received funding and support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Ole Miss notes it has recently earned national acclaim for its exceptional record of providing educational opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in STEM professions. In one recent year, UM was responsible for graduating one-third of the nation's African-American Ph.D.s in mathematical sciences.

Jackson State, a historically black university, has the Department of Defense (DoD) Center of Excellence in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education (CESTEME).

The U.S. Army has backed the center to combat growing scientific and mathematical illiteracy. National statistics also indicate that under-represented minority student groups show very low participation in STEM disciplines.

JSU is partnering with Hinds Community College (HCC) and Jackson Public School District (JPSD) to establish the CESTEME with the overarching goal of developing a STEM pipeline program that will enhance the academic infrastructure of STEM-related programs.

The USM effort is based on its well-established technology-based programs.

Its programs in chemistry and biochemistry, the Louis Stokes Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation (LSMAMP) and the Sustainable Aerospace and Marine Polymer Composites in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials (SPHPM) are among the key elements of its effort.

Success will be measured across the next several years, but it cannot happen unless the emphasis is sustained from within Mississippi and by outside resources.



Nov. 18

The Enterprise-Journal of McComb on recidivism:

Officially, Mississippi says it doesn't have much of a problem with inmates returning to prison after they get out.

Its reported recidivism rate is 32 percent, less than half the national rate of 66 percent.

The comparison, though, is flawed because Mississippi's method of calculating the rate — and its propensity to excessively use incarceration to punish non-violent offenders — artificially understates the magnitude of the recidivism problem.

Mississippi calculates its recidivism rate based on the number of inmates who return to prison within three years. The national rate is based on five years.

Given the sluggish pace through which offenders are processed through the criminal justice system, three years is too short of a time frame to gauge how successfully former inmates are reintegrating into society. One criminology academic contacted by The Clarion-Ledger, which reported this week on the state's "prison-to-prison pipeline," said he was surprised that Mississippi used a three-year time frame.

Another expert said he suspects Mississippi's high incarceration rate — the second highest in the nation — also contributes to a lower-than-average recidivism rate. Because the state locks up more low-risk offenders than the norm, it dilutes the former inmate pool with individuals who are also less prone to be repeat offenders.

Mississippi should start calculating its recidivism rate based on the national standard of a five-year interval, rather than three, so it can have a more accurate and more comparable measuring stick. In the meantime, all the state can really go by is anecdotal evidence. In that respect, the problem is probably worse than it appears on paper.

Keith Starrett, a trailblazing former circuit judge from Pike County who now sits on the federal bench, describes recidivism in this state as "horrible." Starrett chairs the Mississippi Reentry Council, which was established by the Legislature to recommend ways to smooth inmates' return into society and reduce the chances that they will be back behind bars.

Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher has approached this issue with an open mind and a willingness to do things differently. He wants to implement a re-entry program in Mississippi modeled on one that has been successful at Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary. There, inmates can spend two years training in marketable skills — such as automotive repair, plumbing, culinary arts, heating and air conditioning work — so that they have a better chance of getting a job when they come out. The program is reporting a recidivism rate that's one-fifth of Louisiana's state average.

Fisher deserves the Legislature's support in getting that and other programs — such as treating inmates' mental health or addiction issues — either implemented or updated.

The purpose of incarceration is as much rehabilitation as it is punishment. If inmates come out of prison with a reasonable chance of gaining lawful employment, they are less likely to commit crimes and return to prison.

That's beneficial for inmates and their families. It improves public safety and reduces how much taxpayer money is spent on corrections.



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