State flag opponent asks U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case

Carlos Moore is taking his arguments against the Mississippi state flag to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports. Moore, a black attorney in Grenada, filed papers Wednesday that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves were wrong to reject his argument that the flag is a symbol of white supremacy which harms him and his young daughter by violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection to all citizens. The Confederate battle emblem from the Civil War is emblazoned in a corner of the flag. Critics say the symbol is racist. Supporters say it represents the state’s history.

Story, photos stripped from Emmett Till marker

A sign on the Mississippi Freedom trail documenting the kidnapping and lynching of Emmett Till has been defaced, obliterating information about the 1955 incident that galvanized a nascent Civil Rights movement, the Associated Press reports. The marker in Money was scratched with a blunt tool in May. Now vinyl panels containing photos and text about Till have been peeled off the back of the metal marker. The sign was erected in 2011, the first in a series of state-funded markers at significant civil rights sites. The damaged sign is near the long-closed Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, where a 21-year-old white shopkeeper, Carolyn Bryant, said 14-year-old Till whistled at her in August 1955.

Fitch thinks citizens could get $155M from old savings bonds

Mississippians could be in line receive more than $150 million. State Treasurer Lynn Fitch sat in on a hearing this week at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over unclaimed savings bonds. The outcome could mean a big payday for citizens in Mississippi and other states. “The federal government has been holding on to $20 billion of citizen money in the form of unredeemed U.S. Savings Bonds … (and) they’ve demonstrated no interest in finding the bonds’ owners to pay them back,” Fitch said in a news release.

Hinds Community College ‘warned’ for financial status

Hinds Community College has officially been warned. That is, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges’ board voted to place the college in Raymond on “warning” status. “The Commission’s decision to issue this warning to the institution has no bearing on our daily operations; it will not affect federal funding, including financial aid available to students,” said Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse in a statement. 

The SACS website states that a warning often, but not necessarily, precedes probation. An institution may be placed on warning or probation for noncompliance with any of the core requirements or significant noncompliance with the comprehensive standards. Muse attributes the current financial challenges to reductions in state appropriations and economics factors that have created a strain for all the state’s community colleges.

More fallout from Pearson state testing error

The Mississippi Department of Education provided more details on the testing error that affected nearly 1,000 students and allowed some to accidentally graduate. Thursday morning, MDE chief of accountability Paula Vanderford told reporters the scoring error committed by testing vendor NCS Pearson Inc. helped out students that scored lower on the U.S. History exam, and hurt those who scored higher. “When you look at the impact that the error had and look at the range of scores that students could have received, the students at the lower end of the scale were awarded more points than what they should have gotten,” Vanderford said. The mistake was a human error, she said—the wrong scoring table was used and resulted in incorrect test scores for hundreds of students. The mix up did not negatively affect students because everyone affected got to keep the higher test score, she said.

Sen. Wicker wants to expand rural telehealth services

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker helped introduced a bill this week with the goal of expanding access to rural telehealth services. The Reaching Underserved Rural Areas to Lead on Telehealth Act, which Wicker co-sponsored with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would remove some limits on reimbursements for large non-rural hospitals under the Federal Communications Commission’s Healthcare Connect Fund. “Telehealth services are critical to increasing rural Americans’ access to quality care,” Wicker said. “Mississippi is leading the nation in developing telehealth technology. Our health-care providers have demonstrated that targeted investments in telehealth can increase access to life-saving services and drive down costs.”

If passed, the legislation would allow non-rural hospitals in a telehealth consortium to qualify for the 65 percent health-care provider broadband connectivity discount under the Healthcare Connect Fund—as long as a majority of the hospitals in that group serve patients in rural areas.

Vicksburg agrees to restructure city government

Vicksburg’s Board of Aldermen approved a resolution Monday that will restructure city government in a manner proposed by Mayor George Flaggs Jr., The Vicksburg Post reported. Flaggs’ proposal to amend the city’s 105-year-old charter had undergone more than two years of debate, arguments and attempts at compromise. “I feel relieved, now that all the work we put in is not in vain, and I think it’s the most progressive thing that ever happened to this city,” Flaggs said. “I intend to restructure and reorganize this city so that we can have more day-to-day oversight and accountability, and I hope that translates in to saving dollars.”
Flaggs said he believes about $1.5 million could be saved through restructuring the city government. The board voted Monday to put Flagg’s amendments on the board’s minutes, signalling their approval.

Church, cemetery, schools added to National Register of Historic Places

Mt. Olive Cemetery in Hinds County, one of the oldest private African American graveyards in the state, is one of five Mississippi properties recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The United States Department of the Interior also approved the addition of Hillsboro Methodist Church and Cemetery, Scott County; Mt. Moriah School, Walthall County; Walthall County Training School, Walthall County; and the Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson House, Adams County. Hillsboro Methodist Church, established circa 1836, initially was a log chapel called Cypress Grove.

Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi honored in NYC

Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi was honored at the Education Innovation Awards presented by EVERFI, Inc., for its efforts to strengthen communities and empower students through unique digital learning opportunities. Twenty institutions were honored with this distinction at a ceremony hosted on June 12 at the Nasdaq Marketsite in New York City, the foundation said in a press release. 

Honorees were selected based on a set of criteria that included the scale and impact of their digital education initiatives as well as unique student engagement and employee volunteering activities that supplement their programs.

The Mississippi foundation’s Community Digital Scholars program this year involved 25 percent of the 4th-12th grade public school students in its 11-county region. The largest number of those students engaged with the financial literacy segment and, on average, increased their knowledge of personal finance by 91 percent, the foundation’s release said. “Education is one of the main causes that matters to the Community Foundation’s mission. From our earliest successful efforts to place Internet-accessible computers in all of Mississippi public classrooms, we have used technology to improve education,” said Community Foundation President Tom Pittman.

Baptist Hospital transfers Oxford facility to Ole Miss

The University of Mississippi will take over the Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi building in Oxford when the hospital moves to its new facility in November. The Board of Directors of the Institutes of Higher Learning approved the $22 million purchase of the 15-acre location south of the Ole Miss campus during its Thursday meeting. “The purchase of this property allows us to provide improved space for our support units and other functions that serve external constituencies,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said in a press release. “It will also be a major factor in helping us effectively address our capacity for future growth.”

The purchase agreement will be submitted to the city of Oxford and Lafayette County under their right of first refusal, but both Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson and Lafayette County Board of Supervisors president Jeff Busby expressed support for the transfer of the property to the university. The agreement includes a lease-back to allow Baptist Hospital sufficient time to complete the move into its new facility, which is currently under construction on Belk Boulevard between South Lamar and Old Taylor Road.

State bond refinancing saves $32M for FY2018

The state Bond Commission has restructured nearly $450 million in outstanding state bonds, saving more than $32 million in Fiscal Year 2018 alone, Treasurer Lynn Fitch announced Thursday in a press release. “The Bond Commission pays close attention to the financial markets so we can take advantage of favorable market conditions to save Mississippians money,” Fitch said in the release. “Today’s refunding not only eliminates the need for a deficit appropriation for debt service in FY 2018, but also saves taxpayers millions throughout the remaining life of the bonds.”

Such proactive management of state debt is saving $34 million this time, for a total of $69 million since Fitch took office, the release said. Fitch and Gov. Phil Bryant are in New York City this week for their annual meetings with analysts from the three top credit rating agencies. Fitch said she and Bryant are emphasizing steps taken to improve the state’s budgeting and borrowing, including the Fortify Act passed during the Legislature’s special session earlier this month and debt management rules adopted by the Bond Commission. Current ratings, according to the release from the Treasurer:

Fitch Ratings: AA/Stable

S&P: AA/Negative

Moody’s: Aa2/Negative

EPA gives state $2M to clean up urgent environmental problems

State-run environmental programs are getting a big boost. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has received a $2.15 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of a performance partnership grant, which provides financial assistance to states and tribes to address urgent environmental problems.

Robbie Wilbur, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said Thursday that details on the specific environmental programs the grant will fund were not immediately available. The EPA said the grant will aid Mississippi’s efforts to reduce air and water pollution; improve waste management; restore brownfields to productive uses; and prevent pollution and promote sustainability and natural-resource conservation. MDEQ also has plans to improve safe public drinking water supplies; address wastewater concerns and water pollution from rain runoff; and restore and protect wetlands, the EPA said in a new release. The grant will also improve how public information about the environment.

Belhaven University opens new campus in Madison

Belhaven University will offer on-site undergraduate and graduate degree programs at its new Madison campus open this fall. “I am thrilled we are opening a campus in Madison because so many working professionals need graduate degrees in a convenient location,” said Belhaven President Dr. Roger Parrott. “Because Madison is a highly educated community, we believe that our graduate degrees offered in Madison will be popular,” he added. The following degree programs will be available at the Belhaven Madison Campus:

• Master of Business Administration
• Master of Business Administration with Health Administration Concentration
• Master of Business Administration with Human Resources Concentration
• Master of Business Administration with Leadership Concentration
• Master of Science in Leadership
• Master of Science in Leadership with Human Resources Concentration
• Master of Science in Leadership with Ministry Concentration
• Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology
• Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies
• Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies
• Bachelor of Business Administration
• Bachelor of Health Administration
• Bachelor of Science in Management
• Associate of Arts
• Associate of Arts in Biblical Studies
• Associate of Arts in Business
• Associate of Arts in Christian Ministries

Most of the programs are designed for working adults and function in tandem with students who need flexibility while earning a degree. “The adult-focused delivery of the courses gives students the ability to work full time and attend classes one night a week,” said Dr. Audrey Kelleher, vice president for adult and graduate enrollment and student services.

State likely to release Aberdeen schools back to local control

The State Board of Education on Friday will decide whether to turn the Aberdeen School District back over to the local community. Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in the school district in April of 2012 due to serious leadership, management and instructional concerns, along with serious violations of accreditation standards, board policy and state laws. The board will vote whether to approve a resolution to request that Bryant lift the state of emergency. “In June of 2016, five individuals were appointed to form the new Board of the Aberdeen School District and they have worked with the Conservator during the past year to prepare them for assuming full responsibility of the district,” Board Chair Rosemary Aultman wrote in a draft letter to Bryant asking him to lift the state of emergency. “The board members have since drawn lots …