Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. June 25, 2022.

Editorial: Success Mixed On Teen Births

As with a lot of indicators about the well-being of people in Mississippi, this state has made significant progress in reducing the number of teen births, but it still has a long way to go.

In 2009, out of 1,000 females in Mississippi between the ages of 15 and 19, 64 gave birth to a child. By 2020, the latest year for which data is available, the rate had fallen to 27.9. That’s a drop of 56% in a little more than a decade.

That’s the good news.

The bad is that Mississippi’s teen birth rate remains way above the national average. The national teen birth rate, which has been falling slightly faster than Mississippi’s, is 15.4, or about half as high as the rate in Mississippi.

Even more dramatic is comparing Mississippi to the state with the lowest rate. In Massachusetts, the teen birth rate is 6.1, about a fifth of Mississippi’s. This disparity is repeated in the large differences in wealth and poverty between these two states. Per capita income in Mississippi is about half as high as it is in Massachusetts, and its poverty rate is more than twice as high.

An article this past week in Mississippi Today largely blames an inadequate sex education program in the public schools for why this state’s teen birth rate is still the highest in the country. The article says that although Mississippi mandates that the schools provide sex education, the curriculum is outdated and many of the students are not receiving the instruction either because their parents have not given their approval or because the schools are not being held accountable for providing it.

We don’t doubt some of this is true.

But it’s also likely that cultural and economic factors are more to blame. Pregnant teens, the vast majority of whom are unmarried, have become so common that the condition has largely lost its stigma. The use of contraceptives is also less common among people who are poor and undereducated.

Although the schools may help with some of that education, more effective will be the influences that young women receive from their families and their peers. Whether it’s promoting abstinence or contraception, the point that needs to be made to teens is that they and their children are likely to have a very difficult life if the mother is not old enough to handle the responsibility. Also, although this may sound old-fashioned, their odds of escaping poverty and raising healthy and successful children will be a whole lot better if they wait to have children until they are married.

There are, of course, children born to unmarried teen mothers who beat the odds and excel. But that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s unwise to make decisions on the hopes that you and your child will be that exception.

___

Tupelo Daily Journal. June 23, 2022.

Editorial: State should not spend public money on private schools

A newly created state grant program is at the center of a lawsuit brought by Parents for Public Schools, a public education advocacy group that believes the Legislature has violated the state constitution by allowing public dollars to be given to private schools.

The lawsuit alleges that the Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program violates Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution, which says — among other things — that no state funds shall be allocated to “any school” that is not “a free school.”

Regardless of the legal question, the idea of using public funds for private schools is an unfair one, especially in the case of this grant program, which the Legislature created in a way that specifically prohibits public schools from taking advantage of it.

Lawmakers funded the program to the tune of $10 million. It allows private schools to receive grants of up to $100,000 for infrastructure projects. The funding comes from federal COVID-19 dollars. Private schools would not have to repay the state.

That stands in stark contrast to the program lawmakers created for public schools. Public school districts can apply to the state for interest-free loans that have to be repaid within 10 years.

Private schools are not bad, but they are not public and should not be funded by the government. They exist based on a business model that requires tuition and other private grants to operate. According to this model, they provide educational services that stand apart from public schools and the oversight required by the state Department of Education.

In some instances, private schools are superior. In others, they are not. But that does not matter. What matters is that the Legislature is taking money that could go toward strengthening our public schools and putting them into private ventures.

Furthermore, Mississippi has a long history of not fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Even when lawmakers set out to rewrite the formula and create another equitable funding system, they failed to come up with something they felt was better. But under-funding continued.

With this latest act, the state is putting public schools at an even greater disadvantage and forcing taxpayers to spend even more money — because the money that public school districts will use to repay state loans will come from our tax dollars.

Hopefully a judge will stay the program until the lawsuit is concluded. Even better, lawmakers should undo the program before that ever happens. At the very least, private schools should be required to pay back the money just as public schools must do.

END