- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

August 30

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on test scores:

Perhaps this will be one of those pivotal times in the history of Mississippi education.

If so, the past week does not inspire a lot of confidence for the future.

For years, the state Department of Education has been releasing students’ scores on statewide standardized tests. It may not be the best way, but it is about the only we have to measure how well our schools are doing.

This year, the release of the test scores has inadvertently shown how well the Education Department is doing.

The answer is: Not very well.

We cannot remember a test-score release that has had so many extenuating circumstances.

First, the scores were delayed. Then not all the scores were released, which appears to have skewed the results. Then, we found some of the results were incorrect.

Now the scores that were redacted because of privacy concerns are going to be released.

Confused? So are we.

Add to that confusion an inordinate amount of spin.

but opposition is growing.

And this inglorious rollout of what should be a simple set of numbers reflects badly on Common Core.

The Department of Education needs to do some soul searching, an honest evaluation of its performance, and come up with a plan to restore the confidence it has lost.




Sept. 3

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on voters’ privacy rights:

A second court, this time a federal district judge, has denied demands from supporters of state Sen. Chris McDaniel that circuit clerks in Mississippi release unredacted voting records from the June 3 and June 24 Republican senatorial primary, which McDaniel lost in a close statewide vote to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

The decision, released by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas, a Texas judge named to hear the case when Mississippi federal judges recused themselves, follows an earlier, similar denial by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which refused to order birthdates released in a lawsuit filed by McDaniel’s campaign.

The case decided by Atlas was filed by True the Vote, a Texas-based group involved in Tea Party politics.

Atlas ruled that neither poll books nor absentee ballot applications are subject to public disclosure under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, The Associated Press reported.

True the Vote claimed the federal law made birthdates from voter registration forms a part of public record.

Atlas ruled that disclosing voters’ birthdates “raises serious concerns” about privacy, particularly if dates were to be released with full names and current addresses.

“Birthdates, when combined with other identifying information available in voter registration records, can be used to obtain - both legally and improperly - a host of other highly personal information about an individual, particularly in this day of computers with vast searching powers,” Atlas wrote.

In the earlier lawsuit that was decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court, Attorney General Jim Hood argued, for the state, that people with the same last name could be distinguished by the individual voter number each registered voter receives.

“Viewing or copying a voter’s date of birth is simply not necessary for any conceivable purpose in formulating an election challenge,” the attorney general’s argument before the Supreme Court stated.

The attorney general, like Atlas, said making that information available to the public is particularly dangerous because of the growing instances of identity theft.

The information prospective voters provide when registering is intended to qualify people to register and vote. It was not provided to casually and politically become a matter of public record.

The voter identification number, which is individually unique, is sufficient for every reasonable identity request.




Sept. 2

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on MAEP lawsuit:

So far Ronnie Musgrove and his legal team aren’t getting many takers willing to sue over funding shortfalls in education funding for public schools.

Last week, the former Mississippi governor announced the lawsuit was going forward, even though only 14 of the state’s school districts - less than 10 percent of the total - have signed on.

That lukewarm response, plus criticism from fellow public education advocates who instead are pushing for a constitutional amendment to increase school funding, should tell Musgrove something.

Not many think suing the state is the way to get more money for public schools, nor do they like the idea of enriching plaintiffs’ lawyers in the guise of helping public education.

According to Musgrove, the 14 districts that are party to the lawsuit have received over the past six years $115 million less than they should have under the Legislature’s own funding formula, the

Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Statewide, the shortage comes to $1.5 billion, he has calculated.

The lawsuit seeks to have the underfunded money for the 14 districts restored, and MAEP adhered to for all 148 districts going forward.

The problem with this strategy, as many have noted, is that MAEP is a state law. It was written by lawmakers 17 years ago, and it can be changed by them as well. The lawsuit could prompt such a revision, resulting in less money going to public schools, not more.

Musgrove, as one of the original authors of MAEP, should know as well as anyone that the funding formula, while it has had the best of intentions, is fiscally impractical. That’s why it has only been fully funded twice since its 1997 adoption. Since 2001, the state’s treasury has been pinched by a couple of severe and prolonged economic downturns, reducing most state allocations, not just those for K-12 schools.

Musgrove and everyone else can argue whether the Legislature has its spending priorities in the right place, but the fact remains that the majority of the state’s discretionary funding has for decades gone toward education, and continues to do so. There is probably, however, no realistic way to get to consistently full funding for MAEP without a tax increase, and there seems to be little appetite for that either in the Legislature or in the general public.

Maybe the 134 school districts that have not signed on to the lawsuit understand that. Or maybe they don’t like the idea of giving to Musgrove and his lawyer comrades more than 20 cents of every dollar that’s potentially recovered.

Whatever the school districts’ reason, the response has been less than enthusiastic.



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