- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

April 22

Natchez (Miss.) Democrat on education ratings:

Mississippi Board of Education members illustrated in crystal clear detail last week just how complicated the nuances of state and federal school ratings have become.

Quite frankly, the details have become so complicated that few people who don’t work in the field seem to have a grasp on it. In some cases, as last week’s example shows us, even the insiders seem lost sometimes.

After months of developing a new ratings system, Mississippi officials learned the U.S. Department of Education likely would reject the new rating system because it didn’t place enough emphasis on high school graduation.

Mississippi’s new plan called for graduation to count for 100 points on a 1,100-point scale - or approximately 9 percent of the total rating.

Federal educators believe graduation levels should account for at least 20 percent of the total points allowed in the rating.

The issue for Mississippi is the vast amount of federal dollars that flow back into the state’s education coffers. That funding could have been withheld as a result.

In the end, all of the shuffling around may not really matter much to anyone beyond a few educators and some politicians.

Using the newest proposal featuring a heavier focus on graduation rates and applying it to last year’s test data, the number of schools rated with a D would increase while the number with an F would decrease slightly.

Realize, however, the ratings are simply letters; the actual education being taught and absorbed wouldn’t change.

How could our country focus all of these efforts on actually educating children rather than creating, scrapping and recreating ratings plans?

Perhaps the best option might be to consider backing up and starting over. If we created a new education system today from scratch - rather than building on what already exists - how would that system look?




April 21

Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth on Keystone pipeline:

The U.S. State Department took the path of least resistance Friday, saying it would extend its review of the Keystone XL pipeline project to give other federal agencies more time to contribute their opinions to the debate.

It is a politically safe move for Democrats already facing tough midterm elections in an economy that continues to struggle. The State Department did not set a deadline for further comments, but most likely there will be no Keystone decision until after the November elections. That takes one controversial issue off the table.

Keystone XL proposes to send oil recovered from tar sands formations in Canada to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The pipeline must be approved by the government because it crosses America’s boundary with Canada.

The president has to decide whether obtaining all this foreign oil is in the national interest. Just a few years ago, that would have been a no-brainer. But things are different now.

The surge in domestic oil production, mostly through unconventional processes such as hydraulic fracturing, has made the United States far less reliant on foreign oil than it used to be. The growth has been so stunning that by next year, the U.S. is likely to be the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, surpassing both Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Armed with this development, it will be no surprise if the president, in early 2015, rejects the Keystone proposal on the grounds that the country is producing so much of its own oil that it doesn’t need the Canadian imports.

That argument is flawed on two counts. One is that the American economy depends on plentiful, inexpensive energy. The more of it we can get, the better off we’ll be. To brush off the easy availability of so much oil from Canada, our neighbor and reliable ally, is courting the unexpected - not to mention requiring the U.S. to continue to buy oil from less reliable governments elsewhere.

The other flaw in rejecting Keystone is that it will give competitors, such as China, the opportunity to buy the oil. Canada’s eventually going to bring that oil to the surface and sell it; if the U.S. chooses not to buy it, the Canadians will find another customer.

It could be that President Obama is simply waiting until after this fall’s elections to annoy his environmental supporters and approve the pipeline. But if that’s the case, he ought to do it now so that Democratic Senate candidates in active oil states such as Louisiana can use it to their benefit.

The longer the delay (now five years), the less likely Keystone XL gets approved




April 22

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Miss., on cutting federal school funding not realistic:

Imagine what the impact would be if 25 percent of the money coming into Mississippi’s public schools suddenly disappeared.

Schools have enough problems dealing with chronic state underfunding, with the Legislature having met the legal requirement for support of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program only twice in this century.

But U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel doesn’t believe the federal government should spend any money at all on education. He’s said on the campaign trail recently that the U.S. Department of Education is unconstitutional and he’d vote to abolish it.

The second-term state senator from Jones County, in doing away with federal education funding, would cut out about $800 million of the $3.3 billion spent on Mississippi’s K-12 public schools in the last year. That’s nearly a quarter of the total.

The consequences would be devastating, of course. McDaniel shrugs off the implications, saying that if Mississippi was “allowed to keep more of its tax revenue, (it) could offset those losses.”

That’s wishful thinking, to put it mildly. How could Mississippi possibly make up $800 million annually when it doesn’t even do what the law requires with state funding as it is?

Mississippi historically has been the state that receives, per capita, the greatest infusion of federal funds compared to taxes paid. The connection between Mississippi’s status as the nation’s poorest state and its need for those federal dollars is obvious.

To breezily suggest that Mississippi could get along fine without those appropriations - zeroing them out in education - is grossly misleading.

Mississippi’s goal should be to become less dependent on federal funds, but those funds are a vital necessity in shoring up the state’s best hope for that change to occur. A better-educated population with improved job skills is our only conceivable way off the economic bottom. Cutting one-fourth of the money spent on schools in Mississippi would be a disastrous course to pursue.



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