Gov. Phil Bryant
Gov. Phil Bryant

A Denver-based group has recognized the state of Mississippi as an education innovator.

The Education Commission of the States, based in Colorado, cited a “transformational education reform package” for awarding Mississippi the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation.

Jeremy Anderson, president of the commission said Mississippi’s dedication to improving educational outcomes “is quite impressive and is absolutely paying off.”

In a news release, the commission said Mississippi’s reform focused on early-childhood reading and included the expansion of charter schools and the implementation of an A through F accountability system for schools. Additionally, the group cited a teacher pay increase passed in 2014.

Gov. Phil Bryant first announced the award at a recent Mississippi Economic Council luncheon.

“Reforming and modernizing our public education system to give parents and students more choice and the opportunity for better outcomes has been a priority of my administration since I first took office,” Gov. Phil Bryant said through a statement from the commission. “Parents know their children best. Options – good options – should be available when it comes time to pick a school.”

In 2013, Bryant championed legislation to require 3rd graders to pass a literacy exam before being promoted to the fourth grade. The first year of the test, in 2015, 92 percent of students passed.

Named for a longtime commission president, the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation, considers improvements that other states can replicate, are considered bold and courageous and that have bipartisan support.

Joyce Helmick, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, met the news with skepticism, saying that although great things are happening in classrooms, they have little to do with legislative reforms.

“Thousands of Mississippi teachers, education support professionals and administrators are putting in up to five or more unpaid hours per week, buying supplies with [personal] money, working with 20 percent to 50 percent more students per day due to budget cuts, underfunded schools and a severe teacher shortage in many school districts. So, let’s go to classrooms and find real facts of the great reform movement,” Helmick said.

“Go to the Mississippi college and university teacher prep programs that are now enrolling nearly 30 percent fewer education majors. This ‘great reform’ that’s on paper lacks reality in too many students’ classrooms in Mississippi.”

The award will be presented at a ceremony on June 30 in Washington, D.C.


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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.

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