Guest Column By Anne Foster

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 6, 2009

I had never associated fishing with public school funding, but Charlie Mitchell’s recent column (“Angling for Better Schools Requires More Than Dollars”) connected the two things in ways we should all consider. Whether or not the well-funded folks will catch more fish is up for grabs. What is not questionable is whether school funding and community support are related to student achievement and the quality of public schools.

Mr. Mitchell is absolutely right when he says that funding is not the only issue in education. But as long as Mississippi ranks in the bottom of the states in per pupil spending and also in student achievement, it is impossible not to connect those things.

Adequate funding for education in Mississippi must remain a priority, even in these economic times, because the future of the state rides on whether or not we can get education right. Not getting it right has held us back for far too long already.

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In addition to funding issues, Mr. Mitchell hits on a key point when he talks about the role of parents and local leaders in their public schools. There are some very fortunate Mississippi students who live in communities where the citizens didn’t give up on their public schools but instead stayed engaged and supportive of quality education for all. It’s not too late for other communities around the state to learn from their example.

Simply put, public schools belong to the public. The public pays for them and through elected or appointed school boards, oversees the management of them. The public community benefits when schools are successful and suffers when they fail.

Show me a successful school district, and I’ll show you a community that wraps its arms around its schools, partnering with them for the success of all students. Communities should have dreams for their children and then be engaged with their schools to make these dreams come true. That includes parents, civic groups, churches, senior citizens, business groups, municipal leaders, and all citizens – even those who do not have children in public schools, and to go a step farther, even those parents who send their children to private schools.

Educating our population brings the things that all of us want — engaged citizens, a quality workforce, a strong economy, crime reduction, productive lives, and a place for the arts to thrive. All of us should acknowledge the role of public education and commit to be part of helping schools succeed.

Through a program called Schoolhouse to Statehouse, Parents for Public Schools is working in the state of Mississippi to inform, engage and train parents and community members as part of a statewide grassroots network in Mississippi.

As parents are engaged and trained, they are prepared to advocate for policies and programs that result in high quality public education opportunities for Mississippi families and their children. Parent coordinators are working in various geographic regions of the state to achieve these goals.

Parents in particular are a critical component of raising student achievement. It’s not just what they do for their kids at home but also what role they play in the schoolhouse. Informed, engaged parents contribute to the success of a school.

Smart school districts understand this and seek active parent participation.  Parents should be involved with the success of their children’s schools, and schools should welcome them with open arms and open doors.

Quality public schools require both money and community support. Let’s work to make sure Mississippi schools have both.

(Editor’s note: Anne Foster is national Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools. Her email address is afoster@parents4publicschools.org.)