/Legislative watchdog highlights problems with controversial School Recognition Program

Legislative watchdog highlights problems with controversial School Recognition Program

Nonprofit Mississippi News: A legislative watchdog group is warning legislators that they don’t have the most current information necessary to make funding decisions regarding a teacher merit-pay program. The law, as it stands, is not clear about the state Department of Education’s role in its administration. The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review released a report this week that highlighted issues with the controversial Mississippi School Recognition Program and suggested ways lawmakers could improve it. In 2014, the Mississippi Legislature created the School Recognition Program. This program provides financial rewards to educators who are in A-rated school districts or those that have moved up a letter grade. According to the report, $98.6million has been appropriated by the Legislature for the program since its inception. According to the report, the “… legislation did not require that MDE create the procedures and processes for the implementation of the program. “This was a new financial incentive program that had never been administered at the department.” Mississippi Today published a July story that highlighted issues surrounding the merit pay program. Mississippi Today spoke to many teachers who expressed gratitude for the money. However, critics claim that it creates confusion and sometimes even lowers educators’ morale. The program’s intention to reward teachers who have achieved high accountability ratings has led to problems. There was infighting at the local level over how the money was distributed and who was eligible for the funds. This is according to education advocates, school officials, legislators, and educators. In the legislative report, examples were provided of how money was distributed in previous years. The money was previously distributed by teacher committees that chose who and how much to receive. This report gives examples of schools where teachers gave $300 to some students and $2,200 to others. Mississippi Today found that not all schools are giving this money equally. However, the Mississippi Department of Education made this change last year. READ MORE: Gov. READ MORE: Tate Reeves is working to save the School Recognition Program. Critics say that it ‘intensifies already severe inequality.’ Tate Reeves opposed funding for the program in the $2.2 billion education budget. The program was funded by the Legislature, who set aside $28 million for current fiscal year. This weeks report explains that it is difficult to determine how to distribute those funds to schools. The coronavirus pandemic in Mississippi forced public schools to close their doors and cancel state testing in March. This meant that there were no test results on which to base the accountability ratings for that year. The state Board of Education granted all school districts the right to keep the same rating as the previous school year. The report stated that this “presents the Legislature a dilemma” because the funding for the program is awarded to districts based on accountability ratings. The report stated that if the FY 2022 School Recognition Program appropriation is based on assessment testing ratings, it could lead to the Legislature appropriating less or more funds than necessary. The report stated that allowing schools and districts to keep their prior accountability ratings could lead to the Legislature appropriating more or less funds for the program in FY 2022.