Monthly Archives: February 2016

Mississippi’s Once Grand Old Party has become the Sad Old Party

First the Republicans write legislation singling out one specific group, educators, to silence. Now they have changed the rules to limit debate and questions in the House! Why are the Republicans so afraid?  Are their actions so questionable that they feel compelled to silence all potential opposition?  But, maybe it is not opposition they fear, but reason!

What is going on with the Mississippi Republican Party? Why are they so set on shaping Mississippi in their image? Why does a Republican leader pen legislation that goes against the very Constitution the Republicans say they support? Why are they so insistent that only the Republican voice be heard? A state with only one voice is dangerous and borders on tyranny. Perhaps, the people of Mississippi should ask the Republicans if their intent is to serve the people or rule the people. They might be surprised by the answer, but in light of the actions of some Mississippi Republicans, their intent seems to be very clear.

State Republicans claim their goal is to save Mississippi, but who will save Mississippi from them? No one can talk to them, and you sure as heck better not talk about them! Republicans know everything, and if anyone dares believe they don’t, they will be silenced. They hate public schools, and do their best to legislate them out of existence. They are not above being deceptive to get what they want even it means duping the state’s citizens. What was once called the GOP, Grand Old Party, is now the SOP, Sad Old Party.

Lately, the Republican Party, especially in Mississippi comes across as having tunnel vision and being out of control. Some people may say I am off base, but if I am, please somebody explain to me why . . . .

  1. Republicans think they have all the answers and are reluctant to listen to anyone who actually might;
  2. Republicans want to silence those who challenge them or speak out against them;
  3. Republicans hate public schools;
  4. Republicans have little respect for educators;
  5. Republicans take from the needy (public schools) and do their best to give to the well to do (private and charter schools);
  6. Republicans use smokescreens as a tactical tool with citizens;
  7. Republicans claim absolute allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, yet they orchestrate bills to take away the First Amendment rights of state citizens; and
  8. Republicans always have enough money to do the things they want to do.

I am not against the Mississippi Republican Party, but the way they have been handling themselves lately, I find it hard to see how anyone who believes in personal liberties and what is right can stand by them. However, maybe, the Republicans are not guilty of any of the above, and they are simply being vilified by a few out of control bullies. Either way, a once Grand Old Party is not what it once was.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD     February 27, 2016

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Mississippi Public School Education: In Search of the Emerald City

In L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a tornado ripped Dorothy from her home in Kansas and dropped her in the Land of Oz. To get home, she had to travel to the Emerald City to meet with the Great and Powerful Wizard.  In similar fashion, Mississippi is caught in the grips of an education tornado that has left both public school educators and state legislators looking for answers to the state’s education problems. Unfortunately, instead of a collaborative effort to improve public schools, many legislators seem to be more interested in taking on the role of the vengeful wicked witch than working constructively with educators.  On the other hand, thanks to directions from the Good Witch and the Munchkins, educators are slowly following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, and its promise of a brighter future.  Meanwhile, the corridors of the state capitol are regrettably filled with the omniscient swagger of self-appointed education messiahs who have chosen to find their own way.  As a result, they are so far from the yellow brick road that they are forever lost in the land of the Munchkins.

These legislators, primarily Republicans, talk big about improving education in the state, but like the Munchkins, they spend the majority of their time flailing at overripe gumdrops and playing peek-a-boo from behind giant lilies, towering sunflowers, and tall weeds. They cannot see beyond party politics, personal agendas, pettiness, shallowness, and antiquated biases to get the job done. Instead of waging a war to improve public school education, they wage a war to destroy it and rebuild it in their image. These men and women have failed to embrace their roles as servants to the good of all people and have become the embodiment of disservice to the people. Is it any wonder why the Good Witch, Glinda, cries, while the wicked witch, Elphaba, cackles triumphantly?

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy fell into a world she did not understand, but she was wise and knew better than to dash off blindly on her own searching for answers. To get back to Kansas, she listened to Glinda the Good Witch, to the Wizard of Oz, and ultimately to her heart. She did not try to find her way on her own; she sought directions, wisdom, understanding, and courage from those who knew Oz best. She embraced the unique talents of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion in her quest to get back to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Unlike so many Mississippi legislators who ignore and refuse to listen to public school educators, Dorothy embraced the experiences and advice of those who lived in the Land of Oz. She was smart enough to realize without them she would never find her way back to Kansas.

Dorothy trusted the inhabitants of OZ to help her get home. She did not attempt to silence the wicked witch or the winged monkeys just because they took sides against her (HB 49 and HB 958). She did not show bias towards the Munchkins, Winkies, or Quadlings (HB 209). She did not require those who offered their services to first declare if they were a horse of a different color (HB 76), and she certainly did not intentionally undermine the Land of OZ or the Wizard (HB 30, HB 56, SB 2006). Her goal was to get back to Kansas – to go home – not to destroy Oz in the process. Likewise, the legislative goal for K-12 public school education should be to improve it – not destroy it! The goal should be to unite the people of Mississippi in an organized effort to build a better and brighter future for the children of Mississippi.

If Dorothy had believed the inhabitants of Oz were less intelligent, she would have never put the ruby slippers on her feet or taken advice from the Scarecrow. If Dorothy had believed the creatures she met in Oz’s menagerie of weirdness were inferior or incompetent due to shape, color, or uniqueness, she would have never made it home to Kansas. Unlike so many in the Mississippi legislature, she embraced the strength that comes with physical and intellectual diversity. She embraced the wisdom and experiences of those who had traveled the yellow brick road, and by doing so, she found the Emerald City and ultimately her way home.

Public education in Mississippi will continue to struggle as long as state legislators believe they have all the answers and refuse to include educators in the conversation. If they maintain the mindset that public school education is broken and the only way to fix it is to privatize it, they will slowly but surely destroy public education in the state. Without respectful collaborative conversations, the outrageous, vindictive, and bias pens of Mississippi’s elected officials will continue to single out educators and orchestrate legislation designed to control and manipulate the life out of public schools. However, all blame should not be placed solely on the shoulders of state legislators; the ultimate blame for the slow death of public schools in Mississippi lies with the people of Mississippi who year after year tolerate the political malpractice that is suffocating public education.

There is room for improvements in public education just as there is room for improvement in the Mississippi Legislature, but in both cases, the goal should be to improve them not destroy them. Dorothy found the Emerald City by listening to and trusting the inhabitants of Oz, and state legislators would be wise to listen and trust those who live and breathe public school education – Mississippi educators. Ray Bradbury said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Likewise, the greatest threat to public education in Mississippi is not vindictive and bias legislation reeking of personal and political agendas. The biggest threat to Mississippi’s future is a public that remains silent and allows the non-supportive and divisive attitudes of elected men and women to undermine the education of Mississippi’s children.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD     February 19, 2016

HB 49: The Mississippi Bill of Silence Revisited

NOTE – February 2016: I originally published this blog January 23, 2015. Luckily, Mississippi House Education Chairman, John L. Moore’s attempt to muzzle state public school educators and deny them their Constitutional right to free speech did not make it out of committee in 2015. However, in January 2016, he basically resubmitted his original bill under the title HB 49. There is very little difference in the two bills. Both HB 449 and HB 49 are written for the same purpose – to muzzle state public school educators and deny them their Constitutional right to free speech. My thinking is that Mr. Moore is hoping last year’s outcry over HB 449 has been forgotten, and that the door is open in 2016 to slip his Bill of Silence unchallenged through the Education Committee. He knows that with a super-majority Republican House and majority Senate there will be little opposition to the bill once it clears the Education Committee. He also knows the chance of Governor Phil Bryant not signing the bill into law if it gets to his desk is slim and none. WAKE UP MISSISSIPPI! THE WOLF IS AT YOUR DOOR!

The Mississippi Bill of Silence:  HB 449 or is it 49?

(First published January 23, 2015 as The Mississippi Bill of Silence:  HB 449 )

It came to my attention last night by a very agitated teacher that Mississippi House Education Chairman, John L. Moore (R), had submitted a bill intended to silence educators across the state on education issues. The good thing is that the teacher expressed her shock and disbelief after school hours, and by doing so, she was not in violation of Mr. Moore’s proposed “Bill of Silence.” To be fair, some of Mr. Moore’s bill is common sense and justifiable. It should be a violation of state law for school employees to use school time, school property or school supplies for political reasons (i.e. a teacher should not be emailing his/her legislators at 11:30 a.m. when the school day is in session). However, if that was all HB (House Bill) 449 was about, I would not be writing, but unfortunately, he did not stop there.

As you read through the bill, it becomes very clear Moore is not only concerned with what school administrators and teachers do and say politically during the school day but after the school day as well. If his bill passes, superintendents and principals will no longer be able to even mention a legislative bill, action or issue in an administrative meeting or faculty meeting without fear of being charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $10,000. If you don’t believe me, look up the bill for yourself and read through it carefully, or you can simply keep reading as I look at each section of the bill and offer my response. Either way, all educators need to be familiar with House Bill 449.

HB 449

John L. Moore – Republican — Representative — District 60

  • HB 449, Section 2a, c, d, e – Section 2 deals with prohibiting political use of school time, political coercion of school personnel, and involvement in campaigning and lobbying. School district employees cannot use school district time (regularly scheduled hours of school operation), property, equipment, supplies or personnel to produce, distribute, disseminate, circulate or communicate any material or information in support or opposition of any political party, philosophy or issue in an election that could impact the outcome. Campaigning on behalf of a specific candidate or issue or lobbying the Legislature for policy change is not permitted. In addition, school district employees cannot attempt to coerce political support from school personnel or conduct fund raising for political purposes during regularly scheduled school hours.

RESPONSE: School time, school property, school equipment and supplies as well as the directed or solicited services of school personnel SHOULD NOT be used for political purposes. Political activities SHOULD BE conducted outside the school employment day on personal time – not school time. If a school administrator, board member, teacher or other paid school employee wishes to exercise their Constitutional right of involvement in political activities, they SHOULD perform those activities on their personal time, which may include the hours before and after their work duty assignments, weekends, holidays and approved personal leave.  Nevertheless, there may be times when information of a political nature needs to be delivered to school employees during administrative meetings or faculty meetings. This is where a law such as the one proposed by Mr. Moore could be so literally interpreted that it imposes an unrealistic expectation that may lead to neglect of professional duties such as communication.

  • HB 449, Section 2b – Section 2b deals with prohibiting school employees from using their school position to influence school personnel. School employees cannot use their official position in any way to influence or attempt to influence, district personnel to support or oppose any political party, philosophy or issue in an election that could impact the outcome. School employees cannot campaign on behalf of a specific candidate or issue or lobby the Legislature for policy change. Such prohibition shall include, but not be limited to, any form of advocacy or opposition in a classroom or school setting or other school related employment relationship.

RESPONSE: School officials should not be permitted to openly influence or coerce school district personnel during regularly scheduled school hours or even after hours, but delivering information that may be politically charged to inform employees as to potential impact on their jobs should be allowed.  This would hold true when the information and accompanying views pertaining to that information are directly as well as indirectly connected to the job the employees are expected to perform.  Also, who a school administrator, school board member, teacher or other school employee influences, supports, or opposes outside the school on his/her personal time is their business and Constitutional right.  This may be a bit radical, but technically if HB 449 passes, all school administrators, school board members, teachers, and other school employees would be in violation of HB 449 by exercising their Constitutional right to VOTE since their vote has a direct influence on the outcome of elections.

  • HB 449, Section 3 (1) – Part 1 of Section 3 clarifies many of the “can do’s” and “cannot do’s” discussed in Section 2; however, Section 3 (2) says that the school district superintendent and school board members must remain neutral by not engaging in political activities on school property and by not publicly supporting or opposing any political party, philosophy or issue in an election that could impact the outcome.  Superintendents and school board members are forbidden to campaign on behalf of a specific candidate or issue, or lobbying the Legislature for policy change.

RESPONSE: Lobbying the Legislature for policy change is a major part of being a district superintendent or school board member! The position of the district superintendent is a POLITICAL POSITION, so to keep him/her from speaking out on political issues is ridiculous! This is a blatant attempt to hush voices of opposition since the district superintendents are the ones in the best position to get their voices heard! Mr. Moore understands fully that by removing the superintendents’ right to speak out on behalf of students and teachers, he is in effect putting a muzzle on state educators, which leaves the legislators free to run Mississippi public education as they please.

  • HB 449, Section 4 (1) (2) – Section 4 of HB 449 sets the penalties for violation of this act. Anyone who violates the act will be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $10,000 on the first offense. A second violation of the act will result in a misdemeanor and up to $10,000 fine as well as revocation of the individual’s professional license and certification by the State Board of Education.

RESPONSE: While I am pleased to see Mr. Moore was gracious enough to allow the State Board of Education some say in an educational issue even if only in a punitive sense, I am amazed that an educator exercising his/her Constitutional rights could be fined as much as $10,000 while a parent guilty of child neglect for excessive school absences can be fined no more than $1,000. Since when in Mississippi did speaking up for yourself and exercising your freedom of expression become a more contemptuous crime than child neglect?

As the teacher who brought this newest development to my attention and the attention of many others said, “You (teachers) should be ENRAGED!” She is absolutely right, but if HB 449 passes, it will not matter. The Bill of Silence will effectively hush all educator protests.

NOTE – February 2016:  Educators across Mississippi should be enraged.  In fact, all Mississippi citizens should be infuriated!  Are we living in the Magnolia State where liberty and Constitutional rights fall just underneath God and Family, or are we living under the Mississippi Third Reich where educators are not considered to be free citizens with rights under the Constitution of the United States?  Who gave Mr. Moore the authority or the Mississippi Legislature (if this bill passes) over the Constitutional rights of any citizen of the United States?

WAKE UP MISSISSIPPI!
THE CONTEMPT IN THE MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATORS HAS GONE TOO FAR!

JL

©Jack Linton, January 23, 2015

Republished © Jack Linton, February 14, 2016

Senate Bill 2006: Death of the Mississippi High School Activities Association

Every legislative session has hundreds of bills introduced in the Mississippi House and Senate, and although some bills have merit, there are many others that are pointless, clueless, frivolous, and even retaliatory. Such a bill is Senate Bill 2006, which is a direct assault on the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA). To some people that may not be such a big deal, but it is a big deal! It is a big deal because this bill represents another power play in the state legislature. In a state that regularly rants and raves about too much federal government overreach, there is no shortage of bills introduced each year in the state legislature that embrace state government overreach.

SB 2006 calls for a three member committee to be established by the State Board of Education from its membership to study the regulation and oversight of high school athletics and activities as presently conducted by the MHSAA. There is nothing wrong with the state looking into the management of organizations operating as not-for-profit, but SB 2006 goes beyond conducting a study and making recommendations. Under Senator Gollott’s bill, the committee has final authority over policies regulating high school sports and activities as well as choosing a not-for-profit corporation such as the MHSAA to regulate athletics and activities in public schools.  The bill gives the committee the authority to keep the MHSAA as the regulating organization or choose another not-for-profit organization to take its place.  By mandate of the bill, the chosen not-for-profit organization must consent to being governed by a committee consisting of two members of the State Board of Education and three public members not associated with the administration of any school, school district, or athletic program. This governing committee would have veto power of any policy, rule, regulation or any other pronouncement the chosen regulatory organization made in regard to the regulation of school athletics or activities. In other words, the regulating corporation would be a puppet of the committee with no authority of its own other than what the committee extends to it.

Although there have been times as a coach and school administrator that I have disagreed with an interpretation ruling made by the MHSAA, I nevertheless have always found the organization’s decisions favored the student and the rules its members agreed to follow. Overall, I believe the MHSAA has done an excellent job of being as fair and consistent as humanly possible. Also, I have always found the organization to be very transparent in all financial matters regarding the organization. I shudder to think of the chaos that would have existed without this organization to mediate in disputes and misunderstandings between schools and school districts.  Therefore, I am at a loss to understand why Senator Gollott would propose such a bill.  Maybe, a disgruntled parent got to him or maybe, it is, as I suspect, about control and power. I don’t know for sure, but I am inclined to believe it is most likely a combination of the two.

To venture a guess as to what is behind SB 2006, I would say vouchers, recruiting, and parents.  All three are plausible excuses for undermining the MHSAA:

  • Vouchers!  Taking control of the MHSAA would promote the use of vouchers. Under current MHSAA guidelines, there are strict eligibility regulations governing students moving between schools and participating in athletics. Such regulations are a deterrent to parents using vouchers since they do not want their child to risk losing a year of eligibility when transferring to a new school. If the state controlled the organization regulating eligibility, special exemptions could be allowed for students using vouchers to transfer between schools. With such exemptions in place, a major concern for parents using vouchers would be removed;
  • Open recruiting! By forcing the MHSAA or some other regulatory organization to bow under the thumb of a controlling committee, open season recruiting across the state would become the norm. There would be nothing to prevent unscrupulous coaches or directors (of course, they would no longer be unscrupulous if there were no regulations against recruiting) from encouraging and enabling students in smaller or poorer schools to take their vouchers and come play for them; and
  • Parents! If a parent disagreed with a ruling by the regulatory organization (MHSAA), they could simply go above the regulatory organization straight to the committee established by SB 2006. The organization would actually be little more than a “grunt work” entity; so ultimately, all major decisions would be made by the committee, so why waste time haggling with the second string.

The reason behind SB 2006 may be none of these, but there is one thing for sure, SB 2006 is state government overreach.  Conducting a study is one thing, but passing a law that strips authority without just cause or due process and sets up an all powerful watchdog committee is Orwellian.  If the MHSAA was profiting from funds that flow through it from schools, there might be a problem warranting a takeover. However, the organization is a not-for-profit corporation that in return for membership and participation fees provides a valuable service in the form of coordinating interscholastic activities such as rule interpretation and enforcement, scholarship, training, competitions, and promoting sportsmanship and citizenship. As a not-for-profit organization, the MHSAA maintains up-to-date documentation of all money flowing in and out its doors and reports annually to its members with financial statements; therefore, financial transparency is also not an issue. If the organization was non-responsive to its members or to parents that would most likely be grounds for going in another direction, but the MHSAA has always been responsive to its members and especially to parents. The decisions the organization has made over the years may not have always been the most popular, but their decisions have always followed the rules and guidelines as established in the MHSAA Handbook and supported by its members. There is a vast difference between non-responsive and responding with a disagreeable decision.  So, what is the problem?  That is a question that only Senator Gollott can answer, but his solution to whatever the problem may be is likely to open a brand new can of chaos.

SB 2006 makes little sense unless something unethical or illegal is taking place within the MHSAA.  However, if that was true, the story would have been plastered all over the news by now, but that has not happened. Most likely a disgruntled parent is behind this bill, or considering recent events, promotion of parental choice is a likely motive, but regardless of what Senator Gollott was thinking when he penned SB 2006, there is one thing that stands out loud and clear, and that is he is clueless as to the good the MHSAA does for Mississippi students, coaches, directors, administrators, and parents. Hopefully, the members of the House Education Committee will recognize the merits of the MHSAA, or at least recognize that this bill is another shallow attempt for state government to tread where it does not belong. With a bit of luck and common sense, SB 2006 will be one of those bills that fail to make it out of committee.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD     February 6, 2016