A Bad Day for Mississippi

This is a guest post from Michael Pernick, a Program Associate for NCTL. 

Often at NCTL, we highlight the progress of expanded learning time at the federal level – in policies and conversation. We also are energized by the action at the local level – communities, districts and schools that decide to innovate and break free from the shackles of their agrarian school calendar. There is, however, another leverage point where we have not traditionally been able to focus a lot of attention, but that is nonetheless very important – state laws and policies.

As faithful followers of the expanded learning time movement will know, Massachusetts has the nation’s first state initiative to expand learning time. You can find the language authorizing that initiative here.

However, that initiative is not the only action at the state-level - far from it. Many states are looking at policies and legislation that would change their school calendar. There are not many states, though, that have as much action on bills relating to their school calendars as Mississippi did earlier this month.

On March 6th, the Mississippi House Committee on Education had three bills on its docket directly related to the length of the school year.

Mississippi House Bill 22 would establish a competitive grant program to fund an innovative Trimester schedule in selected school districts.  The Trimester schedule would require at least 225 instructional days per year – an increase of 45 days (that’s 9 weeks of learning per year) from the current state minimum of 180 days.  This pilot program would have transformed the school calendar in up to twelve school districts, and moved those schools from an outdated agrarian school schedule to a modern and cutting edge model. 

On March 6, House Bill 22 died in the Mississippi House Committee on Education.

Mississippi House Bill 1465 would have required that any school that is labeled as “failing” or “at risk of failing” expand the length of their school year by at least 15 days.  This bill would have removed the shackles of a limited school calendar, and given the school more time to improve.  Like House Bill 22, if enacted, this bill could have gone a long way to improving struggling schools.

On March 6, House Bill 1465 died in the Mississippi House Committee on Education.

Mississippi House Bill 776 would reauthorize certain technical aspects of funding streams for Mississippi’s schools.  It also made a technical change involving utilization of bonds to help fund capital improvements.  But the reauthorization includes a provision that permits schools to shorten their school year and operate for fewer than 180 days.  Schools would need to demonstrate justifiable necessity, but this provision allows Mississippi schools to cut much-needed days from their school year – and still receive full funding from the state. 

On March 6, House Bill 776 passed the Mississippi House Committee on Education.

To summarize, the Mississippi House Committee on Education had three proposed laws relating to school time, two of which were directly addressing the school time needed for struggling students. Now, here at NCTL, we of course can’t know what factors the legislators were weighing when making their decisions and why they voted against giving children more time and more opportunities.

To us, it looks like three strikes and the children of Mississippi are almost out. 

Thank you to Representative Bryant Clark for introducing House Bill 22 and Representative John Moore for introducing House Bill 1465.  Your visionary leadership displayed in these bills shows your commitment to improving the educational success of all Mississippi students.