CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS
A Mississippi state lawmaker said he opposed putting more money into elementary schools because he came from a town where “all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.”
In an interview with the Clarion-Ledger regarding education funding, state Rep. Gene Alday (R) stated his opposition to a push to increase funding to improve elementary school reading scores. Alday implied that increasing education funding for children in black families would be pointless.
Alday continued, saying that when he was mayor of Walls, MS, that the times he’d gone to the emergency room had taken a long time. “I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots,” he told the newspaper.
At issue is something called Mississippi’s “third grade reading gate,” a measure passed in 2013, which won’t allow students to advance to fourth grade if they can’t read proficiently. A survey of Mississippi’s school superintendents estimated that about 28 percent of the state’s third graders would have to repeat a grade because they couldn’t pass the reading proficiency exams.
The idea for the policy came from Florida, where the state invested about $1 billion into schools to pay for reading coaches, teachers and increased attention to students who struggled with reading.
The Mississippi legislature recently advanced a bill that would provide exceptions to the reading policy for students with learning disabilities. The bill is opposed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who supports the third grade gate policy.
“It’s disappointing that 62 members of the House of Representatives would vote to socially promote children who cannot read,” Bryant told the Clarion-Ledger. “With votes like this, it is little wonder that Mississippi’s public education system has been an abysmal failure.”
Bryant’s critics suggest that he needs to change his approach. “If the governor is sincere about making universal literacy a gateway, rather than a gatekeeper, he would support full funding for what it will take to get the literacy job done,” said Mike Sayer, co-founder of Southern Echo, a grassroots civil rights group that works with African-American students.
Alday staunchly opposes increasing the funding. “I don’t see any schools hurting,” he said.
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