Education

BUDGET CHALLENGES AT A REMARKABLE MISSISSIPPI SCHOOL


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Over the past two years my wife Deb and I have reported frequently on the remarkable Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, in the eastern Mississippi town of Columbus. You can read two of Deb’s original posts here and here; one by me here;  and a collection of all reports from the region here.

MSMS, as it’s known, is a two-year, public, residential high school for talented students from across the state, based on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women, known as “the W.” The students are drawn from Mississippi’s full racial, economic, and geographic range.

As Deb said in an early report, “The 228 students at MSMS this year, all juniors and seniors, come from all over the state to spend their last two years of high school studying accelerated sciences, math, and computer courses, as well as a rich selection of arts and humanities.” Nearly all of them go off to college. During last fall’s selection of Rhodes Scholars, Ericka Wheeler became the first-ever African-American woman to be chosen from Mississippi. She is an MSMS alum.

This week Bracey Harris of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson reported that MSMS has been steadily cutting its enrollment. The reason is not a lack of applicants — on the contrary — but rather cutbacks in funding from the state Department of Education. Sample:

The last time MSMS was near its full capacity of 275-300 students was five years ago.

Wade Leonard, a spokesman for MSMS, said enrollment has been scaled back by 12 percent from 271 students during the 2011-12 school year to 238 students for the 2016-17 school year.

If more funding is not received, the school’s class size is expected to drop to 220 by the 2017-18 year, an all-time low….

As a statewide special school, MSMS can’t draw on normal local school-tax revenues and depends on grants from the Department of Education and private donors. I found one other part of the Clarion-Ledger story impressive, and touching, in explaining the one-donor-at-a-time, handful-of-students-at-a-time nature of the school’s private fund-raising:

The upcoming class of 2017 would have been trimmed by four students if not for donations from Chad Edmonson, a 1999 graduate, and the MSMS Foundation. [More about him here.]

Edmonson’s gift of roughly $60,000 allowed MSMS to accept three more students, while an additional $36,000 raised by the foundation made it possible for a fourth student to attend the school….

Active in the MSMS Foundation, Edmonson recalled how his jaw dropped when he learned of the decrease in enrollment.

“It was shocking because it was more on the side of 280-290 students when I was in school. That’s such a dramatic drop in that it was a directional change. (I started thinking) about the school not being open anymore. After the board meeting, I agreed to make a donation.”

Here’s another statement about what the school means, from India Yarborough, a recent alum (and daughter of an MSMS teacher, Chuck Yarborough), writing inthe Commercial Dispatch in Columbus:

By offering advanced courses in all subjects, this beacon of excellence attracts Mississippi’s best students and provides them an environment where they can flourish. This in a state where academic excellence is often not expected and too seldom found.

Without essential support, MSMS will flounder in its efforts to elevate the student from the Delta who dreams of pursuing medicine, or lift the poverty-stricken student from the Pine Belt who hopes for a brighter future through education.

We’ve reported on positive developments around the country, and also on setbacks and challenges. This is another challenge, for a state and students with a lot of them.

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