Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. Sept. 21, 2021.

Editorial: College board’s risky decision

Mississippi’s College Board certainly had the right to decide that the eight public universities it supervises cannot require students, faculty and staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But the way it went about making this decision is going to prompt plenty of questions.

The College Board and officials at its universities had played hot potato on the vaccine issue for several weeks. In August, the board spokeswoman told Mississippi Today that the state’s existing vaccination requirements were a minimum, and that, “Additional requirements are not prohibited.”

Officials at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State, however, said they did not believe their schools had the authority to mandate the vaccine as a condition of attendance.

If universities did have that authority before, they don’t now. Last week, the College Board voted during a retreat that schools can’t require the vaccine as a condition of employment or attendance.

What’s most interesting about this is that the vote, according to the College Board’s spokeswoman, occurred in a room that lacked webcasting capabilities. She said there is no recording of the vote or the discussion leading up to it — as if no one thought to turn on their smartphone’s audio recording device or connect to Facebook’s live broadcast feature for a topic that was certain to be of great interest.

When the minutes of the meeting become public, they will reveal how the trustees voted. For now, though, all that anyone can rely on is an Aug. 27 vote in which the College Board ignored the objections of its two member physicians and voted not to require the vaccine at the eight universities. In this vote, the University of Mississippi Medical Center was the only institution where vaccines would be required.

The specific wording of the Aug. 27 motion approved by the College Board was that “we would not impose any requirement on the universities to mandate vaccination.” This is very different from its Sept. 16 vote, in which the board specifically instructed the universities not to require vaccines.

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. Neither the College Board nor the universities wanted to be the mean school librarian who said, in a state where skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine is well above the national average, that the shots were required for university participation.

Both groups dodged their way around the issue until forced to act. Mississippi Today reports this may have occurred when a Mississippi State provost sent an email to faculty saying that the minutes of the College Board’s Aug. 27 meeting directed universities not to require vaccinations. That assessment was inaccurate — until the College Board acted last week.

Hundreds of universities across the nation, public and private, now require COVID-19 vaccination. Mississippi’s decision not to do that adds an element of mandatory risk to its campuses.

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The (McComb) Enterprise-Journal. Sept. 20, 2021.

Editorial : Charter schools need high standards

Charter school advocates are grousing that the board that oversees the schools in Mississippi denied two more applications on Sept. 13:

— A member of the Mississippi Charter Authorizer Board told Mississippi Today that current state law is too tough on charter schools, and that the Legislature needs to change the law to provide charter operators more flexibility.

— An advocate who worked with lawmakers to write Mississippi’s charter school legislation in 2013 believes the problem is that the charter board does not provide enough support and collaboration to applicants who want to open new schools.

— And an official with Empower Mississippi said all seven of the state’s existing charter schools have a waiting list for enrollment along with 90% retention rates. Approving no schools, he added, is a travesty.

It’s understandable that charter school supporters are disappointed by the board’s decision. But they really need to tap the brakes on this “woe is me” thing.

The charter board’s job is not to provide more flexibility to applicants. Its primary mission is not to collaborate with organizations that want to open a school; it’s to make sure that a business seeking taxpayer money has got the leadership and the plans to use that money wisely. And people who talk about the travesty of rejected applications ought to realize that the quickest way to kill charter schools in this state would be to let a few open that are likely to fail.

A school, whether public, private, religious or anything else, is an immense challenge to operate. It has to be an even greater challenge for schools that seek to provide an alternative for low-income families who are being poorly served by their local public system.

The best evidence of this difficulty is the state’s existing charter schools. They typically offer classes for just one to four grades. If it was easy, they’d all be K-12 operations.

Don’t blame the Charter School Authorizer Board for doing its job. The board members have the twin tasks of representing taxpayer interests and ensuring that charter school standards are met.

The board rejected applications for a K-8 charter school in Adams County and a K-5 school in Greenville. The decisions are disappointing because much of Mississippi needs the competition that charter schools can provide. But the charter schools have to be good ones.

This is an imperfect comparison, but the Mississippi Gaming Commission has the same sort of mission as the charter school board. The Gaming Commission regulates casinos and authorizes new ones, and it has done excellent work in requiring investments designed to create jobs and bring visitors to the state. The commission has aimed high and it has paid off.

Charter schools need to be held to a high standard, too. Tweak the law, provide more collaboration and avoid travesties — but don’t let under-equipped operators get involved.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. Sept. 15, 2021.

Editorial: Time for a medical marijuana special session

It is time for Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session for medical marijuana and force lawmakers to pass a bill or adjourn failing to follow the clear will of the people.

Since the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out the medical marijuana law passed by voters with the adoption of Initiative 65, lawmakers have held public hearings, talked behind closed doors and floated public ideas on what a medical marijuana law should look like.

Reeves, who said he opposed medical marijuana but accepts the will of the people, has said he will only call a special session when lawmakers have agreed upon a law.

Such an agreement has not been reached, and it looks unlikely to happen anytime soon — despite weeks of proclamations from various lawmakers and leaders that they were getting close to a resolution or speculated timelines that have already come and gone.

Conspiracy theories abound as to why lawmakers have not come to a consensus. Some believe key leaders don’t really want a medical marijuana bill. Others say lawmakers want it to be handled in the regular session where they can horse trade aspects of the bill to get what they want on other bills. And then there’s the very real possibility that nobody wants to compromise on what they see as the most important aspect of the bill — whether that’s taxes, restrictions on dispensaries, rules governing growers or some other specific interest.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what the hold up is.

The people of Mississippi overwhelmingly support a medical marijuana program. More voters voted in support of it than for any elected official on the ballot last November.

Lawmakers are being derelict in their duty as representatives of the people who elected them, and it is time for Reeves to step up and lead on this issue by calling their hand.

The governor’s position — no special session until lawmakers come to an agreement — is admirable. We understand his not wanting to waste taxpayer money. But right now lawmakers are doing far worse: they are ignoring the clear will of the people.

And let’s be real: While expensive, special sessions cost relatively little compared to the state’s overall budget. Special sessions cost approximately $35,000 to $40,000 per day. On the high end, a three-day session — more than enough time to pass a medical marijuana program, even with vigorous debate — would cost no more than $120,000. Compared to a $6 billion budget, that’s less than one half of one half of one half of one half of one half of one half of one half of one half of 1%. In other words, it’s not even a drop in the bucket.

But what a special session would do is put lawmakers on the spot, forcing their actions and decisions under intense scrutiny, daily racking adding to the price tag of a law that should have already gone in effect July 1.

Because every day that has passed since July 1, people who had been given hope of clinically proven medical relief for a variety of painful ailments have been let down. Lest our state leaders lose sight of what’s at stake, it’s the well being of suffering Mississippians.

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