State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright makes a presentation to House Education Chairman John Moore, right, and the committee.

State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright gave a generally positive update to lawmakers Wednesday on how a series of education reforms are going.

“This committee and the Department and the people of the state of Mississippi can brag about the way we’re going” with new education initiatives, House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, told the group.

Moore noted the recent teacher pay raise, increased funding to the teacher supply fund and more money for literacy coaches.

Wright highlighted notable achievements, such as Mississippi’s growth on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the nation’s report card, an increase in the state’s average ACT score, and the successes of the 11 early childhood initiatives and the Legislature’s support for literacy instruction.

Mississippi is also ranked 4th in the nation in the number of National Board Certified Teachers with 1,400 Mississippi teachers currently pursuing certification, Wright told lawmakers. She said this is in part thanks to a law that gives a $6,000 annual bonus to teachers who complete certification. The law also reimburses teachers for any fees imposed for taking the certification exam.

The state has also seen an increase in the number of students participating in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, she said.

Wright also discussed several publications the department produced for teachers and administrators, including documents with literacy lesson plans and an “early warning system” document that helps schools identify at-risk students and intervene before it’s too late.

She reported that while 425 educational scholarship accounts were approved this school year, only 274 have applied for reimbursement, or used the scholarship. The Legislature passed the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program, which awards $6,500 to special needs students to use for educational services outside of the public school system.

Wright said the department is trying to find out why so many didn’t use the funds this year and what can be done to ensure parents use the funds. There are currently around 215 students on the waiting list, she said.

“We are sending notifications to everybody, particularly those that have been awarded but not asked for reimbursement as well as those who have re enrolled in public schools and verify their status. Otherwise we want to make sure they’re taking advantage of the monies you’ve provided and if not, why not,” Wright explained.

Other reforms made or in process:

• Revamping high school diploma options

• Increasing professional development for special education teachers

• Lifting the cap on the number of college credits high school students can attain

• Re-programming coursework for struggling high school students to avoid college remediation

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.