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Fencing surrounds the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove, Mississippi, U.S., on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. In Mississippis four privately run prisons last year, the assault rate averaged three times as high as in state-run lockups. None was more violent than the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, And Local Officials Are ‘Devastated’ By The Loss Of Revenue

2016/04/14 – County officials across Mississippi are warning of job losses and deep deficits as local jails are being deprived of the state inmates needed to keep them afloat. The culprit, say local officials, is state government and private prisons, which are looking to boost their own revenue as sentencing and drug-policy reforms are sending fewer bodies into the correctional system.

In the late 1990s, as the overcrowded Mississippi prison system buckled under the weight of mass incarceration, the state asked local governments to build local correctional institutions to house state prisoners. It was billed as a win-win: The Mississippi Department of Correction would foot the bill for each prisoner, and the counties would get good jobs guarding them. The state guaranteed that the local jails would never be less than 80 percent occupied, and the locals would get a 3 percent boost in compensation each year.

After a few years, say local officials, the state offered a new deal: Instead of the 3 percent bump, they would give the locals more and more prisoners, thus boosting total revenue. Today, the state pays $29.74 per day per prisoner to the regional facilities, a deal that worked for everybody as long as the buildings were stuffed full with bodies.

Scott Strickland, president of the Stone County Board of Supervisors, said reforms at the state and local levels have shrunk the prison population. “Federal laws took some part in that — allowing prisoners to serve only a certain percentage of their term,” he said. “Also, they’ve reduced prison sentences for certain drug-related offenses.”

As the wave of mass incarceration begins to recede, the Mississippi controversy has local and state officials talking openly about how harmful locking up fewer people up will be for the economy, confirming the suspicions of those who have argued that mass incarceration is not merely a strategy directed at crime prevention. “Under the administrations of Reagan and Clinton, incarceration, a social tool used for punishment, also became a major job creator,” Antonio Moore, a producer of the documentary “Crack in the System,” wrote recently.

“I don’t think it necessarily started out this way, but the inmate population has become the backbone of some of these counties that are involved,” said Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher as the controversy heated up.

The prisoners have value beyond the per diem, county officials add, when they can be put to work. State prisoners do garbage pickup, lawn maintenance and other manual labor that taxpayers would otherwise have to pay for. Convict labor has made it easier for local governments to absorb never-ending cuts in state funding, as tea party legislators and governors slash budgets in the name of conservative government.

The state knows it, and now demands that local jails house state convicts who perform labor for free, George County Supervisor Henry Cochran told The Huffington Post. The counties take the deal. “You’re either gonna go up on everybody’s garbage bill, or you’ve gotta house those inmates,” Cochran said. “You’re using that inmate labor, so [taxpayers are] getting a little good out of that inmate for their tax dollars. You either gotta hire a bunch of employees or keep that inmate. It’s like making a deal with the devil.”

State lawmakers can claim to be acting conservatively, Cochran said, but they’re not responsible for the consequences of their decisions. “The state’s dumping responsibility on local government,” he said.

“The department has had to reduce spending by $5 million to comply with Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent order,” Fisher said in a February statement, citing the budget constraints as the reason for the prisoner transfers.

Fisher added that he was re-evaluating the agency’s spending, given “low pay, high turnover, critical staff shortages, and aging facilities.”

The state was paying prison guards so little that it couldn’t even find staff for its community work centers, which run the convict labor program, Fisher said. Mississippi, in other words, couldn’t even afford free labor. “I don’t like having to close community work centers, but we simply don’t have the staff to keep some of them operating. Until we improve the pay of corrections officers, staffing will continue to be a critical issue,” Fisher said.

Like Mississippi, neighboring Louisiana, as well as Kansas, have recently become laboratories for conservative policy, with hard-line Republicans slashing taxes and dramatically cutting spending. The argument was that the tax cuts would fuel growth. Instead, the states have become economic basket-cases — Kansas actually performed worse economically than its neighbors. Deficits in Kansas and Louisiana both soared and basic services have been cut beyond the bone.

The next to fall in Mississippi will be workers at regional jails that have lost 20 percent of their inmates. Officials in Stone County and George County said that around 40 employees in each would be laid off if the jails were forced to close, a necessity if the inmate population or the state reimbursement doesn’t increase. The counties are losing $72,000 per month each, officials said. Both counties still owe significant sums on boncompds that financed the jails, so even if they shut them down to stop the bleeding, taxpayers will still be on the hook.

“It’s a game,” said Scott Strickland. “The commissioner of corrections wants raises for all his state employees, so he’s trying to cry wolf.”

Strickland noted that it costs the state roughly $43 per day to lock people in Mississippi facilities, and that none of the inmates in Stone County were looking forward to being moved. “They treat them rough up there,” he said of the state prisons.

Jeffrey Schwartz, a consultant who has advised jails and prisons, said Mississippi’s battle is a strange turn of events. “It is a state that has had lots of problems within corrections. This is quite a new twist,” he said. “In the great overcrowding days, there were battles between the counties and the state over whether the state had to take inmates from the counties, and the states said we’re not taking any more, and the sheriffs said, well you have to.” A sheriff, Schwartz recalled, once dropped inmates off at a state prison, handcuffed them to the fence, and drove off.

But local officials are investigating whether the state inmates are instead winding up in private prisons. “According to their reports, they have some private prisons that they are actually paying up to $80 a day. I think it’s political favors going around, the reason they’re doing that, but that’s neither here nor there,” Strickland said.

Mississippi contracts with a Utah company called Management and Training Corp. to house some of its prisoners. Stone County Supervisor Dale Bond questioned why the state would send inmates to the private prison at more than double the cost of transferring them to a county facility. “Some of these private prisons have got 1,000 inmates and they’re getting that large per diem,” he lamented.

“None of the offenders from the regional jails are being moved to the facilities we operate. We house approximately 4,100 inmates at the four facilities,” said Issa Arnita, spokesman for MTC.

“By the end of May, we’ll be well over a quarter-million in the red on that facility,” said Bond of Stone County’s facility. “If they do not send us our inmates back, we can’t make it.”

Bond said the county supervisors have asked for permission to bring prisoners from out of state to cover the shortfall, but he worried red tape will slow the flow of human traffic. “I don’t know how reliable that is. By the time we get that approved, we’re gonna be broke,” he said.

At a recent meeting with state officials, Bond said, the state Corrections Department offered to pay off one sheriff’s bond and close the county facility, but he turned down the offer. “No, we don’t want that, we want the jobs,” the sheriff said.

For Strickland, something has to give. “In a way, we were sort of devastated. That revenue needs to be made up,” he said.

Source: Ryam Brim Huffington Post

Lead_pipe

Jackson’s Lead Problem Goes National

2016/04/08 – The city of Jackson is getting old and like a senior citizen with a lifetime of heavy smoking and alcohol abuse, it’s facing expensive age-related illnesses.  The most obvious, outside of the numerous car-eating-size potholes found in some areas, is the recent news of lead-tainted water.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality discovered last June that 22 percent of homes in Jackson contained water that exceeded the dangerous level of 15 parts per billion.  Mississippi officials didn’t notify the City of Jackson of the results until January, however, and it was only this February that the state issued a warning for pregnant women and small children.

Lead lingers in the bones and can get released into the physiology of a developing fetus and into a mother’s breast milk after birth, according to the EPA, causing brain damage, low IQ, and anemia in infants, among other problems.

Thankfully, a follow-up sampling of 101 homes in January and February of this year revealed just 11 percent of homes were above the federal lead limit, but it should be noted that the number is liable to fluctuate and remains a concern for residents.

The problem comes down to money and circumstance.  The EPA only started regulating lead in tap water in 1991 in the wake of numerous health studies that linked lead in drinking water to cases of severely elevated blood lead.  Prior to that, almost every city in the country had spent the last 70 or so years happily installing water pipes made of cast iron, but with lead joints to prevent leakage.

Aside from being an insidious neurotoxin, lead is malleable and has a low melting point.  It also tends to bend before it breaks, and — up until the federal government wisely halted its use — the heavy metal made a wonderful plug for joints and bends in high-pressure water pipes.

Unlike most contaminants, lead doesn’t naturally occur in an untainted water supply and, therefore, doesn’t usually follow the water out of its source, be it a well, lake, or river.  In fact, it usually gets into your baby’s bottle only after it leaves the city’s water treatment plant, often through cast iron pipes with lead joints.

Cities all over the country know about their lead joints, but they’ve worked to keep lead particulates out of your water with a mineral coating they put inside your pipes through chemical additives in the water.  Usually this tactic works so well that the issue only shows its face when water treatment changes back at the water plant chemically melt the mineral coating in your pipes, leeching lead into your water.  That was the case in Flint, Michigan, where the governor’s administration ordered the city to save money by changing its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which contained enough toxic and corrosive elements to obliterate the mineral coating inside Flint’s pipes.

Unlike Flint, the city of Jackson has been using the Pearl River as its source for decades, but Jackson Public Works Director Kishia Powell admitted that the city, like many others, was originally built with cast iron water pipes that contain lead joints.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) warns that even though the majority of home lead tests in Jackson revealed no lead, or lead below EPA warning levels, its special precaution toward homes with pregnant women or young children remains intact for “at least six months while the city of Jackson makes the necessary changes required to stabilize the pH levels in its water system that contribute to corrosion.”

The agency also demanded the city submit to a compliance plan, forcing the municipality to hire an engineering service to handle its water issues, as well as submit a corrosion control plan and create a map of lead-affected homes, among other requirements.

Last month, the city council refused to accept a $400,000 contract proposed by Mayor Tony Yarber with Trilogy Engineering Inc., after council members realized that Houston, Texas founder Thessalonian LeBlanc held an unreported campaign fundraiser for the mayor in 2014.  Council members accused the mayor of cronyism and criticized LeBlanc’s education, pointing out that she received her degree through an online college.

While the city does battle with the lead issues on its end, homeowners are left to deal with the lead that pipes in their own homes may be dosing them with, because lead doesn’t have to leech into your water lines through city-owned pipes.  In February, Powell described the lead contamination issue as a “home-dependent event,” and though her statement has an element of blame passing, there may actually be some truth to it.

“Water chemistry is reacting with lead-based plumbing.  The control that we do have is to treat the water to a point where we have as little reaction across the city as possible and that’s the point that we’re trying to get to,” Powell said.

If your own home is older than 30 years (as many Jackson homes are), you may have lead water service lines leading into your house from the ground level.  Look for telltale solder “bulbs” just beneath the shut-off valve on your water’s main line.  You can also perform your own test on the pipes by lightly scratching pipes in your house.  Lead is a soft metal and will scratch easily.

 

jackson_lead

https://www.epa.gov/il/advice-chicago-residents-about-lead-drinking-water

 

While individual residents are left to replace their pipes as personal finance allows or to rely on city employees to get the water chemistry correct, replacing miles of long-buried city pipes is even more difficult, particularly in a city facing insurmountable infrastructure costs already.  In 2012, the City of Jackson had to submit to an expensive Clean Water Act settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) because of unauthorized overflows of raw, untreated sewage spilling into the Pearl River from the city’s wastewater treatment plant in south Jackson.  In addition to catching national attention, the consent decree required Jackson to pay a civil penalty of $437,916 and implement a supplemental environmental project valued at $875,000.  This does not include the costs of making the necessary upgrades to the city’s aging sewer plant (which caused the headache in the first place), and that cost could easily reach into the millions.

To make matters worse, credit rating company Moody’s Investors Service imposed a four-level reduction of the city’s bond rating last December because of falling revenues as parasite communities in Madison and Rankin counties continue to siphon off Jackson residents and businesses.  Moody’s points out that city reserves plummeted 60 percent in fiscal year 2015, and it expects another plummet in 2016, even as the city faces a $1 billion bill to repair and fill potholes and replace water and sewers lines.

Jackson is not alone in its suffering, however.  The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that there are more than one million miles of water mains in the United States, and it rates them all at a dismal “D+” on its 2013 report card on U.S. infrastructure.

“At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life,” the report claims.  “There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States.  Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion.”

ASCE points out that capital spending hasn’t kept pace with water infrastructure needs and that a trend toward state and local governments assuming the bulk of the investment requirements in the coming decades will continue, with local governments paying an increasing share of the costs.

“In 2008, state and local governments estimated their total expenditures at $93 billion annually for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  Congressional appropriations have declined over the five-year period 2008 to 2012, totaling only $6.9 billion — an average of $1.38 billion annually or $27.6 billion over 20 years, 8% of EPA’s identified needs over 20 years,” ASCE’s report claims.

The organization warned that failing to meet the investment needs of the next 20 years could actually reverse any environmental, public health, and economic gains of the last three decades.

Ward 4 Councilman De’Keither Stamps said he is optimistic that the trend will reverse, at least a little, and that the city will be able to reach out to the state of Mississippi to help offset the capital city’s failing infrastructure.  He said lobbyists representing the city are currently working with legislators and making them aware of the serious issues facing the city.

“Those conversations have been happening and hopefully we’ll see the fruits of them when the legislative session is over,” Stamps said.

Source: MS NAACP

Gerrymander

Gerrymandering Makes Many Officials Untouchable

2016/04/08 – Last month, State Rep. Karl Oliver offered a galling example of how protected Mississippi legislators are and how broken state-level democracy remains to this day.

Gulfport resident Becky Guidry sent emails to House members in March urging them to reject a new corporate-friendly bill that would cut more than $570 million in state revenue because the state already was in a $65 million budget shortfall – due, in part, to even more recent tax cuts.

Oliver, a Republican, responded to Guidry in an email, pointing out that she has not always lived in Mississippi and should go back to where she came from.

“I see you are not a native to the great state of Mississippi nor do you and I have similar political views,” wrote Oliver, who owns a funeral home in Winona, MS.  “… I appreciate you going to the trouble to share yours with me, but quite frankly, and with all due respect, I could care less.  I would, however, recommend that there are a rather large number of like-minded citizens in Illinois that would love to see you return.”

Olivers’ cohorts in the House, rather than chide or censure him for his insensitivity, merely snickered.  Twitter account #FedUpWith50th reported that Rep. Jeff Smith, another Republican, “wanted to congratulate and recognize the junior gentleman from Winona on making national headlines, and his notoriety.  We’re so proud of him.”

However self-incriminating state politicians like Oliver act, many are shielded from consequences by undemocratic politics.

“Legislators in this state have a long history of ignoring voters, whether it’s black voters who were utterly removed from the democratic process by disfranchisement, despite comprising a large percentage of the state, or poor voters who can’t afford to buy their representative’s ear,” said MSNAACP President Derrick Johnson.

The MSNAACP has already discussed how unethical gerrymandering by both Republican leaders and black Democrats has successfully insulated many incumbents from replacement in a fair election.

Oliver’s District 46, for example, was similarly carved up by legislators in 2012 to exclude black residents living in the city of Greenwood, who typically vote Democratic.  The top map below outlines Oliver’s district in blue, while the dot representation offered by the map beneath it reveals just how much of that area is comprised of white voters.

 

gerrymandering_chart

Answer: all of it.

 

Fighting the injustice of gerrymandering is difficult because the gerrymandered districts also draw support from the opposite side of the political aisle, from Democratic members of redistricting committees.  It turns out that many black Democrats are also insulated from political upset because of the higher percentage of black voters the gerrymandered districts give them and, as a result, offer little complaint when the maps are submitted for approval.  Rep. Willie Perkins, Sr., for example, represents District 32, which contains the south Greenwood black population cast off from Oliver’s district.  The arrangement gives Perkins a district that is 80.58 percent black and virtually assures his re-election.

The state House has 42 majority-black districts out of a total of 122, but a large percentage of those black districts are more than 65 percent black.  Some, like District 69, are as high as 86 percent black, representing clear evidence of voter “packing,” which reduces black political influence in surrounding districts.

Legislators are protected by more than just friendly election maps created by their buddies in the legislature, however.  Many of the lawmakers at the state Capitol are financially dependent upon out-of-state lobbyists to fund their campaigns, rather than individual Mississippi voters.

Oliver, for example, received $750 from oil and gas lobbyists Koch Industries and $500 from payday loan company Tower Loan in 2014.  In 2015 he received $1,000 from Empower PAC, among many other business-related contributors.

Source: MS NAACP

school_consolidation

School Consolidation: PR Without Solutions

2016/04/08 – Legislators are using self-inflicted revenue shortfalls to push for major consolidation of state schools, despite consolidation’s limited national success.

House Education Committee members voted to consolidate the municipal district of Winona into its neighboring Carroll County and Montgomery County districts last month.  While legislators have since narrowed that consolidation effort down to Montgomery County Schools and the Winona District, committee chairman Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, said he and his cohorts are already hammering away at larger consolidation efforts in upcoming years.

“I think you’re not going to see 82 (school districts) but something around 50 or less school districts,” Moore told the Jackson Free Press. “All of these consolidations are being done (now) for low performance or an inability to operate financially.”

Mississippi Association of Educators Director Frank Yates pointed out that Moore failed to detail the small amount of savings gathered from the consolidation venture.

“When it came to the financial savings, all they had to offer were generalities,” Yates said.  “All they can say is ‘you save money on administration cuts,’ but it remains to be seen how much savings that really is.  Let’s say you put Winona and Kilmichael (schools) together.  Well, you might save what you’re paying out for one superintendent’s salary and one or two secretaries.  But the schools are still going to be there and they’re going to be open, so some form of oversight is still going to be necessary.  So are you going to add an assistant superintendent?  Well, he’ll make $20,000 less than the superintendent, so when you boil it down, you can’t say you’re going to save a ton of money.”

Yates added that Moore also neglected to point out in his debate that many of the districts are failing financially due to K-12 opponents in the legislature who have voted to underfund state schools by more than $1.3 billion over the last two decades in order to finance multiple corporate tax giveaways.  The state cut general funding per student for K-12 schools by 9 percent and funding per student for higher education by 23 percent since 2008.  Most notable is the legislative handout of $1.3 billion to the state’s Nissan plant in Canton — the estimated total deficit those same politicians imposed on state schools.

In addition to obvious corporate giveaways, Mississippi legislators also gave corporations more than $300 million in tax breaks and tax credits during the last four years.  Last year legislators altered tax calculations for businesses, saving them about $100 million by providing sales tax breaks for developers to build suburban strip malls and sales tax holidays for items such as hunting equipment.  Legislators also handed out a reduction in the tax on a business’s inventory, robbing the state general fund of $126 million.

More tax cuts appeared during this year’s legislative session and, though there was already a $65 million revenue shortfall, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves offered an additional $577 million tax cut proposal.  His critics compare that to “fixing” stratospheric credit card debt by quitting your second job.

While legislators struggle to finance tax cuts for their corporate friends by cutting services and reducing schools, public education advocates are arguing that consolidation efforts in other states are having a negative impact on impoverished and minority students.

newsletter_chart

Source:  http://www.wpaag.org/Rural%20Trust%20-%20ACT%20and%20School%20Size.htm

The Rural School Community Trust (RSCT) of Arkansas discovered that while students in more affluent districts tend to do better in larger districts, students in poorer communities produce better test scores while attending smaller districts.

“The achievement gap between students from the wealthiest and the poorest communities is much greater among those who attend large districts (ACT score 21.0 for the wealthy, 17.7 for the poor) than among those who attend small districts (20.3 for the wealthy, 18.4 for the poor),” RSCT reported.

The study also revealed that poor students in smaller districts tended to deliver more test scores, in general.

“…[T]he small districts are testing more kids than the large (districts), especially at the poorest income level.  At each income level, the student participation rate on the ACT test was either as high or higher in small districts as in large districts,” stated RSCT.  “For small districts the participation rate was either 9 or 10 percent for communities at every income level.  Small districts with above-average poverty had the highest rate of participation at 10 percent.  By contrast, the participation rate in large districts fell as the level of poverty increased.  In the poorest communities, large districts got only 6 percent of their students into the test room.”

A Penn State College of Education study concluded that the benefits of consolidating rural schools were limited.

“An extensive account of West Virginia students and their families depicts the experience as inflicting considerable harm,” the study reported.  “After the school consolidation (closures), students attended larger schools where they received less individual attention, endured longer bus rides to and from school (and hence longer days), and had fewer opportunities to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities (a result of both increased competition for limited spots and transportation issues).”

The university added that students’ families experienced fewer opportunities to participate in formal school governance roles through associations like the Parent Teacher Association and other methods.  It noted that increased travel times “proved a barrier to volunteering, visiting classrooms, and taking part in parent-teacher conferences.”

Critics express considerable concern at the possibly of consolidation leading to school congestion.  Author Kathleen Cotton observed that stuffing students into bigger schools further alienated students who are already struggling with their studies.

“We know that the states with the largest schools and school districts have the worst achievement, affective, and social outcomes.  We also know that the students who stand to benefit most from small schools are economically disadvantaged and minority students,” Cotton wrote, adding that the nation may be acting against the interest of minorities by funneling high proportions of minority youngsters into large schools within very large school districts.

The National Education Policy Center made the same argument in an extensive 2011 report, explaining that “impoverished places, in particular, often benefit from smaller schools and districts, with more teacher interaction, and can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.”

Like Yates, the report dismissed many state-level consolidation proposals as merely serving “a public relations purpose in times of fiscal crisis, rather than substantive fiscal or educational purposes.”

msnaacp_logo

State Withholds Childcare Subsidies for Minority Mothers, Report Says

2016/04/08 – Carley Dear has a four-year-old son, Tailon, who is lucky enough to attend North Jackson’s Richard Brandon Head Start Center every weekday morning.  Soon after the sun peeps over the horizon, his mom drops him off and at the center Tailon eats a good breakfast, tackles his study skills, and learns to get along with other small humans with equally squeaky voices.

The young mother is still a high school student, however, who is finishing her senior year at Murrah High School.  After graduating she plans to attend USM and pursue a media degree and a career as a reporter.

The Head Start Center in Jackson, like Head Start centers throughout Mississippi, hosts children at a fraction of the cost of traditional day care.  This leaves a monumental impact upon the life of Dear and many young women like her who are trying to struggle over the 20-year speed bump that teen pregnancy often produces.

“Before my son started coming here, I was having to pay $130 every two weeks for daycare,” Dear said.

A $260 monthly childcare bill would decimate most young mothers, especially since many traditional teen jobs pay only about $500 or $600 a month — if the boss even gives them a full 40-hour work week.  Owning a car to get you to work might be out of the question under those circumstances.  Rent, most likely, would also be impossible without a long collection of roommates — and many roommates don’t care for kids.

“With Richard Brandon Head Start, Tailon can go to school in the morning, and I can go to school, too.  It really helps,” Dear said.  “Without affordable daycare I wouldn’t be able to afford … well, I couldn’t afford much, I guess.  I’d have to be home and missing out on school.”

As essential as affordable childcare services are, Dear and her son are actually among the very few eligible Mississippians who manage to receive it.  The vast majority of state residents who qualify for some form of government-subsidized childcare will never get it, thanks to uncommitted legislators and their insensitive policies.

Mississippi is so oblivious to the value of childcare aid that the state earned the notorious “honor” of recently being recognized by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) for its insensitivity.  The organization issued a report earlier this year on the harmful impacts of the state’s apparent indifference to low-income working families of color.

In 2015, USCCR’s Mississippi State Advisory Committee voted to investigate discrimination claims against recipients and providers of childcare services based on race or color by the federal low-income childcare subsidy program in Mississippi.  What they found was surprisingly bad, especially since any poverty-reducing program should be welcomed in Mississippi, which has a childhood poverty rate of 29 percent.  The situation is even worse for African-American children, like Tailon Dear, with almost half of black Mississippi youth (47 percent) living at or below the poverty level in 2014.

“The Mississippi State Advisory Committee Memorandum found that far too many eligible children are not serviced by the subsidy program and that the money that should support this eligible population of children is redirected elsewhere,” the Commission stated.  “… Instead of finding appropriate ways for working families to have full access to this transformative program, it appears that ill-explained barriers prevent childcare providers and parents from access.”

These barriers are terribly effective.  While 124,426 children in Mississippi under the age of six were eligible for Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) funding in 2013, only about 18,300 (14.7 percent) actually received assistance each month.

The problem lies in the state’s management of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants, which ultimately feed into the CCDF.  In 1996, then President Bill Clinton signed a rule to alter a pre-existing national childcare grant program that reduced it from a federally managed disbursement system helping low-income parents pay for childcare to a block grant program managed by individual states.  Almost immediately, some states proved more apathetic to child poverty than others.

The federal government mandates only three stipulations for state officials to meet:  (1) benefi­ciaries must earn no more than 85 percent of the state’s median income of $2,917 per month, (2) parents must be able to choose their childcare providers, and (3) providers must charge beneficiaries the same amount they charge other patrons.  These underdeveloped federal requirements leave plenty of room for states to monkey with the program and erect countless obstructions to its operations.

And monkey, they have.  On top of the list of documents and requirements the state of Mississippi requires to prove eligibility (including a mandatory number of hours of weekly work and a poverty-level income cap), the state also requires single parents to verify either the existence of child support from an absent parent or that the parent is taking advantage of MDHS’ Child Support Services to recoup that child support.

With the help of every barrier the state could legally erect, the number of children receiving child care assistance through Child Care and Development Block Grants between 2006 and 2013 declined by 53 percent — a decline larger than all but four states, the report claims.

“Legislators in this state have never acted as if affordable childcare can make a difference,” said Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative Executive Director Carol Burnett, who advocates heavily for the state to open the doors to more childcare funding.

Burnett explained that affordable childcare for low-income mothers and their children could mean the difference between a productive future and a life of poverty, as mothers like Dear no longer have to weigh the pros and cons of paying for childcare vs. abandoning the prospect of work or education entirely in order to take care of their children.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services operates the program and Gov. Phil Bryant holds sway over MDHS.  Burnett said the governor, therefore, ultimately has the power to bring relief to minority women who are disproportionately affected by poverty in the state.  But so far, Burnett said, Bryant’s voice is silent and cold.

Source: MS NAACP

msnaacp_logo

Press Release: MS NAACP Responds to Gov. Bryant’s Signing of the “Religious Freedom Act”

2016/04/06 – Once again, Governor Phil Bryant has proven that his legacy will be one built on hate and the discrimination of others.

The innocuous sounding HB 1523 Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, also known as the “Religious Freedom Act” has nothing to do with freedom or conscience and everything to do with discrimination. A bill that aimed to legalize hatred was signed into law today by Governor Bryant.

And it is hatred. It is discrimination.

Governor Bryant and legislators argued that this law only provides protection to those who want to discriminate against others based upon their “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” But this language isn’t new.

There was a time when the idea that African-Americans were only suited for slavery was once a sincerely held religious belief and moral conviction for citizens in Mississippi.

There was a time when the idea that the intermarrying between whites and blacks was prohibited which was considered a sincerely held religious belief and moral conviction for citizens in Mississippi.

And now this same language is being used to deny another group of people what is their basic and legal right.

“It truly troubles me to know that Mississippi has yet to learn from its past as it continues to discriminate and divide its citizens,” says Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP.

“I call on those citizens of conscience who have a sincerely held belief and a moral conviction not to discriminate others, I ask you to join us and not to patronize any business that seeks to discriminate against others under the cover of this law” stated Johnson.

Source: MS NAACP

the_guardian

Mississippi’s Confederate Heritage Month Proclamation Prompts Outcry

2016/04/05 – The Confederacy is rising again, this time using perhaps the final weapon in its arsenal: calendars.

Mississippi governor Phil Bryant recently proclaimed April to be Confederate Heritage Month, adding an official flourish to a longstanding tradition in his state and several others. April, he wrote in the proclamation, is “the month in which the Confederate States began and ended a four-year struggle”.

Bryant’s proclamation does not mention the central cause of the struggle – slavery – but instead announces the month as a chance to “gain insight from our mistakes and successes” and to “earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us”. It also sets aside 25 April as “Confederate Memorial Day”.

The proclamation set off an outcry around the state. Bryant may have expected less-than-universal acceptance of his declaration: he did not issue it on the official Mississippi state website, alongside other proclamations. Instead it appeared without notice on the site of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The SCV is a group dedicated to preserving the vestiges of southern rebellion – including the Mississippi state flag, which is the last in the nation to feature a version of the Confederate battle flag.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leaders in Mississippi reacted by proposing a civil war remembrance of their own: Union Army Heritage Month.

“These white and black Mississippi patriots fought for the continuation of the United States of America as one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” Derrick Johnson, president of Mississippi’s NAACP, wrote to the Clarion-Ledger.

“Should not these soldiers be honored, too?”

Scores rallied on the steps of the capitol, in Jackson. They were diverse. Kathleen Chambers personified a shift in the state’s mentality: she is young and white, and instead of a southern drawl she spoke with the universal up-talk of young people.

“Any white people I know? They’re not OK with this,” she said to the local television station WAPT.

Of Bryant, she said: “He’s trying to turn a Confederate heritage into a good thing, when it’s not. It shouldn’t be celebrated. Especially we shouldn’t celebrate owning people in the past.”

Other states around the south – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and, until a few years ago, Virginia – celebrate similar months, with variations. Unlike Mississippi, Alabama’s proclamation keeps the cause of the war in view: “Our recognition of Confederate history also recognizes that slavery was one of the causes of the war, an issue in the war, was ended by the war and slavery is hereby condemned.”

Virginia may be a bellwether for the fate of the Confederate calendar. The last time Virginia declared such a month, in 2010, the backlash was immediate. On 8 April that year Governor Bob McConnell issued a lengthy apology to the citizens of his state and amended his proclamation.

“The proclamation issued by this office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission,” he wrote. “The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.

“The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the civil war. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”

McDonnell injected this section into the middle of his proclamation: “WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history.”

In Mississippi, Bryant has showed no inclination to include such an acknowledgment. But Clay Chandler, the governor’s director of communications, told the Times-Picayune in Mississippi: “Like his predecessors – both Republican and Democrat – who issued similar proclamations, Governor Bryant believes Mississippi’s history deserves study and reflection, no matter how unpleasant or complicated parts of it may be.”

And, he said: “Like the proclamation says, gaining insight from our mistakes and successes will help us move forward.”

Source: The Guardian

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Expect Selection of New Jackson Airports Board Right After Bill Signing

2016/03/30 – The author of the successful Senate bill to transfer control of Jackson’s airports to a state board with metro-wide representation expects appointments to the new board will begin soon after Gov. Phil Bryant signs the bill.

“I would assume that they will appoint right away,” said Sen. Josh Harkins, a Flowood Republican whose bill, SB 2162, led to often-times angry debate in both legislative bodies before gaining final passage in the House Friday on a 74-46 vote. The measure gives an expanded regional board policy control over Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and the Hawkins Field general aviation airport.

Harkins said the bill does not have to return to the Senate for further debate. His concurrence with changes made by the House is sufficient to send it to Gov. Bryant, Harkins said.

The bill that passed the House specifies nine members: two Jackson residents appointed by the governor; one Jackson resident appointed by the lieutenant governor; one Jackson resident appointed by Jackson’s mayor; one Jackson resident appointed by Jackson’s City Council; one appointment by the Rankin County Board of Supervisors; one appointment by the Madison County Board of Supervisors; the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority or designee; the Mississippi adjutant general or designee.

The appointments might come quickly but seating of the nine-member board most likely will have to wait for the outcome of federal court litigation.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority hired Phelps Dunbar’s Fred Banks as soon as it got word of Harkins legislative plans back in December. Banks, a former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, has declined to confirm the reason for his hiring. Airport officials have limited their information on the hiring to statements in the Dec. 21 minutes.

The board is hiring Banks and the Phelps Dunbar firm, the minutes state, “to perform legal services for JMAA as to certain legal matters regarding which Justice Banks has extensive expertise.”

The board did the hiring through its general counsel The Walker Group, which presumably will handle the billing of the Airport Authority for Banks’ services.

Sen. John Horhn of Jackson said in an interview after Senate passage of the bill that the Authority board hired Banks solely to fight elimination of its policy making responsibilities.

Horhn indicated the Airport Authority is willing to let airport projects stall as the price of keeping control, though he said proponents of the airport takeover would be to blame for holding up efforts to gain a low-cost carrier and commercially develop land around the airport . “The question is, Are the proponents willing to let the airport languish?” Horhn said during the Senate debate that ended with a 29-18 vote in favor of Harkins’ legislation.

Horhn said he thinks the first step for the Airport Authority is to find out whether it or the City of Jackson has the standing to initiate action in federal court.

Debate on the bill centered on the arguments of supporters that policy making for Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport should reflect the region the airport serves. Opponents, including the entire Jackson legislative delegation, argued the policy-making transfer amounted to a “taking” of something created and owned by Jackson.

Source: Ted Carter, Mississippi Business Journal

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Mississippi Senate Aiming for More Education Funding

2016/03/30 – Public school advocates’ worries are mounting over K-12 funding after Gov. Phil Bryant called for statewide budget cuts and lawmakers hand out tax credits to businesses such as Continental Tire and pass legislation that would phase out the 3 and 4 percent state income tax brackets.

This is the first legislative session after months of controversial debate leading up to the November vote on Initiative 42, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The initiative failed, though backers said the support shown for it in a low-turnout election showed strong concerns about school funding.

This year, Mississippi faces a revenue shortfall of $42 million and large deficits for some agencies, according to the latest numbers.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said, however, he believes that the Senate budget bill brought forward this week will include increased funding for public education across the board, including K-12, community colleges, and colleges and universities.

Reeves said he believes that even if the House approves his proposed tax breaks, which would result in a loss of $18 million in revenue next year, savings can be found elsewhere to offset that loss.

He pointed to several bills that would consolidate state agencies, which he said could save anywhere from $20 to $40 million. The Senate has passed two bills that proposed the consolidations, including combining the Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Fair, Forestry, and Soil and Water commissions under the umbrella of a new department. The second would create the Department of Medicaid and Human Services, which would include the Division of Medicaid, the Department of Rehabiliation Services and parts of the Department of Human Services.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said he figured in the $18 million shortfall in his budget numbers this year if the House follows suit and approves the tax cuts.

Clarke’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said he’s already struggling with how to come up with the money to fund what needs to be funded.

“Well, you know, that just puts you a little deeper in the hole,” he said of the revenue loss that would come from cutting taxes. “I don’t know how to deal with what we got right now.”

Frierson said he hopes education funding will, at minimum, stay at the same level as last year.

Others in the House are reluctant to say at this point what funding for K-12 could look like.

The House Appropriations Committee passed what was essentially a dummy bill that funds MAEP, the formula that determines how much each district needs to provide an adequate education to its students, at the same level as last year but makes cuts of about $7 million in other areas of the education budget.

House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said it won’t be until April that actual numbers are nailed down.

“At this point, we have no idea how much money is going to be available, and that’s kind of the problem,“ Moore, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, said.

Nancy Loome, executive director of the public education advocacy group The Parents’ Campaign, said she and her members are concerned about what the tax breaks mean for funding of schools.

“Our members are just aghast. They cannot believe that these same legislators who worked so hard to defeat Initiative 42 and promised to be responsible and do everything they could to make sure education was provided for, and then they come back just a couple months later and slash revenue,” Loome said.

Many legislative leaders have also suggested changing parts of the MAEP formula, including how at-risk students are identified for additional funding and instituting measures to make sure more dollars are spent in the classroom and not on administration.

“School districts over the last 10 to 12 years are spending more at the local level for administration and less on the instructional side,” Moore said, noting that each year the MAEP uses the prior year’s spending to determine funding for the next year.

A 2015 report by the legislative watchdog agency Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee showed the salaries of teachers and other instructional personnel declined by about $130 million since 2004, while salaries for administrators increased by about $15 million.

“So, the formula tells us to spend more money on management. … We think that’s insanity in the formula,” he said.

Currently, any child in the free and reduced-lunch program is considered “at risk,” though he or she might not live in poverty. State Auditor Stacey Pickering and several lawmakers have pointed this out as a major flaw in the formula.

Source: Kate Royals, The Clarion-Ledger

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U. S. and Mississippi Departments of Education Host First Educator Equity Lab at Jackson State University

2016/03/30 – The U.S. Department of Education (Department) and Mississippi Department of Education, with support from Partners for Each and Every Child, hosted the first Educator Equity Lab at Jackson State University today. This is the first of a series of labs that will be held across the country to focus on educator equity, as part of the Excellent Educators for All initiative. The lab will provide educators, community leaders, government officials and other stakeholders with the opportunity to come together to carry forward the work embedded in Mississippi’s Educator Equity Plan approved last November, to ensure equitable access to excellent educators for all students and to close existing equity gaps in schools.

In order to move America toward the goal of ensuring that every student in every public school has equitable access to excellent educators, the Department launched the Excellent Educators for All Initiative in July 2014, which requires each state to submit a plan describing the steps it will take to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than other children.

“Parents understand that strong teaching is fundamental to strong opportunities for their children,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said. “Much of the work ahead rests on educators in our schools and classrooms who make a difference in students’ lives every day—particularly for students who have the odds most stacked against them. I saw that impact not only when I was a teacher and a principal, but also when I was a student. Teachers literally saved my life, and they were the reason I became an educator. So, the challenge for us is to make sure that having a great teacher isn’t just a matter of luck and that all students have access to great teaching and to great opportunities in the classroom.”

“I applaud the participants in today’s lab for coming together to ensure all of Mississippi’s students have equal access to the strong teaching that they deserve, and to ensure that educators receive the support that they too deserve,” said James Cole Jr., General Counsel, Delegated the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education. “It is essential that we continue these conversations about the progress states are making in implementing their plans and moving towards equal access to excellent educators for all students. When more young people are given the tools they need to unlock their full potential and eventually invest back into their homes and communities, the entire nation benefits.”

“We are proud to partner with the U.S. Department of Education to sponsor the first Equity Lab in the nation,” said Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey M. Wright. “Equitable access to teachers of quality and experience has been a concern of mine since I arrived in Mississippi. It is our plan to ensure that all students have equal access to high quality instruction. In fact, ensuring that every school has effective teachers and leaders is one of State Board of Education’s top five goals.”

The goal of the equity lab is to examine the strategies designed to address these equity gaps, as articulated in each state’s educator equity plan, and collaboratively develop concrete, actionable steps to facilitate their successful implementation. Mississippi has demonstrated commitment to addressing equity gaps head on, as evidenced by their collaboration with the Department in jointly hosting this inaugural equity lab. Mississippi is also taking steps to increase data-driven decision-making, to help ensure that schools and districts have access to accurate and timely information necessary to make knowledgeable decisions.

In Mississippi—and across the nation—students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are disproportionally taught by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers. Specifically, Mississippi’s Educator Equity Plan includes data that demonstrate that in Mississippi, high-poverty and minority students are disproportionately located in the lowest-performing schools, which have half as many highly-effective and 1.5 times as many ineffective teachers as the high-performing schools. Equal educational opportunity means ensuring that schools have the resources they need to provide meaningful opportunities for all students to succeed, regardless of family income or race. To accomplish this, it is essential that a priority be placed on working collaboratively to ensure all students have equitable access to the high-quality education they deserve, and that all educators have the resources and support they need to provide an excellent education for all children. This lab will serve as a vehicle for conversations among the state officials, civil rights groups, unions, principals, parents, teachers, and students around best practices and strategies, as well as common challenges.

Source: U.S. Department of Education