- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Feb. 15

The Commercial Dispatch on Mississippi’s foster care system:

The foster care system in Mississippi has been a source of shame and embarrassment for years, if not decades. That’s the bad news.



The good news is that the state appears to be making a good-faith effort to improve conditions for one of the most vulnerable groups of Mississippians - children who have no family to support them.

Like many injustices, this move was not entirely a voluntary proposition for the state. In 2004, a federal judge ruled Mississippi had failed to provide an adequate and effective system for meeting the needs of foster care children in what his known as the “Olivia Y” case.

Since then, the battle has continued, with the state facing charges of non-compliance. Finally, when faced with the prospect of the state’s foster care system being taken over by federal authorities, the state seems taken measures to correct the problem.

Last January, at Gov. Phil Bryant’s request, the state appropriated an additional $38 million to the program, allowing Mississippi to hire an addition 248 case workers. Prior to that, some case workers had a case load of as many as 40 children.

Meanwhile, the need for foster care has continued to increase. This year an additional 1,000 children were added to the list of those in need of foster care and, overall, there are 1,500 children awaiting placement.

To address that problem, a Christian-based nonprofit called 200 Million Flowers, is canvassing churches throughout the state, seeking to identify potential foster families in those congregations and offering them expedited training that speed up the placement process.

There is little doubt there is an urgent need for foster parents and we applaud 200 Million Flowers for its efforts.

But we also urge caution. When 200 Million Flowers says it can provide the required training over a weekend in process that often required months, we are concerned.

Being a foster parent is a serious responsibility. It requires not only financial means and good intentions, but specific, detailed training. Many of these children, perhaps most, arrive in the foster-care system with serious mental, emotional and physical issues.

Foster parents should be properly equipped to meet what are often daunting challenges.

Anyone considering becoming a foster parent should take plenty of time to think this through.

The plight of these children is heart-breaking and we understand the need to rush to their aid. But the decision to become a foster parent should not be driven by an emotional impulse.

Can the training process for foster parents be expedited? There is reason to believe the answer is yes.

But expediency is not the only factor that should be taken into consideration. In fact, moving too quickly can make a bad situation worse. A failed foster-care experience damages all parties.

The need may be urgent, but the careful deliberation and thorough training should not be compromised.

Online:

https://www.cdispatch.com

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Feb. 12

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on the debate about revising Mississippi’s school funding formula:

Legislators in both parties and on both sides of a debate about revising Mississippi’s school funding formula should use an indefinite delay in action to shine a brighter light and provide additional acts about why a wholesale change is needed.

Revision efforts died on a key legislative deadline day Thursday when the legislative leadership decided it did not have the necessary votes to move the proposed changes to the next step.

The issue could be revived later in the 2017 session or in a special session, if one were called by Gov. Phil Bryant. Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said more time is needed to study possible changes in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which has been chronically short-changed by the Legislature.

Public education is the largest fund item in the state’s budget, requiring more than $2 billion in tax support. However, MAEP is billions of dollars behind formula requirements over years of underfunding.

Reeves and Gunn assert that the MAEP formula must be changed because it shortchanges students in classrooms, but supporting information offered by the leadership does not reflect what could have been provided with full funding.

Opponents of revisions as so far proposed also cite lack of transparency in working toward revisions.

Public education, more than other state expenditures, needs to operate as a bipartisan initiative for adequacy and excellence. The debate has been tainted by ideological side issues that some perceive as attempts to weaken public schools’ preeminent place in Mississippi’s responsibilities.

The issue apparently was so unbalanced that Reeves and Gunn could not muster a majority of their fellow Republicans’ votes as the deadline approached.

No proposed revisions should be advanced unless the legislation contains hard figures in terms of real dollars and the impact on schools statewide. Any proposed funding changes should be independently verifiable by non-partisan review, which should be required.

The funding formula should focus exclusively on the welfare of public schools, students, teachers and their effective impact, and not on creating advantages or opportunities for private schools siphoning away taxpayers’ funds.

The burden and consequences of underfunding MAEP fall on both parties, whose actions across two decades have produced the underfunding.

An honest assessment of MAEP must include what could have been if the formula mandate, so often ignored, had been met every year.

Many backers of thoroughly considered formula revisions point to resource allocation as a key element in improving academic performance, and that is a reasonable expectation if funding is adequate at the bottom line.

Mississippi’s experience has not had the consistency of full funding year after year to establish a reliable claim that revisions without adequate support would be effective.

Use the extra time provided by a missed deadline to bring forward clear, hard facts about public school needs and school financing.

Online:

https://djournal.com

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Feb. 12

The Sun Herald on No One Eats Alone Day:

We wish every day could be as swell as Thursday was at D’Iberville Middle School.

The kids there learned a valuable lesson - during lunch hour.

Instead of heading off to tell booger jokes with their pals, they sat with kids they barely knew. And after a few awkward moments, magic happened.

“It’s taken a while for some of them, but a lot of kids will end up talking to a wall if they had to,” Assistant Principal Jody Grimes told the Sun Herald’s Justin Vicory. “(The lunchroom lesson is) for them to find something in common with one another. To learn there are more similarities than differences.”

D’Iberville Middle School and more than 2,000 schools across the nation took part in No One Eats Alone Day, which aims to thwart an insidious form of bullying - social isolation.

“We have talked to over 10,000 students in dozens of schools and after-school programs, and we have found the problem of social isolation to be universal,” Beyond Differences, the driving force behind No One Eats Alone, wrote on its website beyonddifferences.org. “We also acknowledge the relationship between social isolation and bullying and violence. By reducing social isolation, we believe we can help end much bullying and violence.”

Middle school is a particularly tough time for kids, who seem to confront changes and challenges around every corner. Imagine having to face those challenges alone, without a friend to confide in. And lunchtime is the roughest time for a child to be alone, when it seems everyone else is socializing.

If only one lonely child came away with a new friend, the day was a smashing success in our view. We suspect there were many friendships forged.

The students through the week heard a lot about isolation and the importance of including everyone - and they learned a valuable skill: How to start a conversation.

Beyond Differences provided the materials for the event. Magnolia Health gave students anti-bullying booklets.

No One Eats Alone should spread throughout society.

Online:

https://www.sunherald.com

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