12-06-2016  8:07 am      •     

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Black lawmakers say funding public schools and infrastructure projects at Mississippi's historically Black universities is among their priorities as budget-writing moves into its final phases this session.

Members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus discussed those projects and others during a public meeting Monday on the campus of the private Tougaloo College in Jackson. They urged residents to lobby legislators to pass the proposals, including full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. MAEP is a formula designed to ensure an equitable distribution of state dollars to school districts.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, said a proposal to implement an intervention initiative for failing school districts and add services for "at-risk" families should also get serious consideration this session.

The proposal would, among other things, employ or assign school counselors, social workers and other professionals to craft a plan to help families become self-sufficient, she said.

"If we don't stand up and say we've got to have some intervention in our school districts, you won't recognize the Black community in 25 years," said Scott, the caucus chairwoman.

Mississippi currently has six school districts under state control, and many of them have a majority-Black student population.

Last fall, the state Department of Education released data showing only 51 percent of the 152 school districts are successful, high-performing or considered a star district, the highest possible rating. The rest of the districts are on academic watch or received lower ratings.

Several capital improvement projects at the predominantly Black universities of Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State have been presented this session. The projects, along with those from the state's five other universities, would require the state to borrow money to finance the improvements.

Mississippi Valley is seeking $7.5 million for a wastewater and sewer upgrade. Zachary Faison, special assistant to that university's president, said the work is needed to maintain federal compliance for safety standards.

Faison said the university is seeking another $6.3 million to renovate the student union. He said the building was constructed in 1967 and had only a partial renovation in 1985.

"There's leaking in the building," Faison said.

At Alcorn, $9 million is sought for sewer and water infrastructure projects and another $7.5 million for campus security upgrades. The Lorman campus needed cameras and a computerized system for locks, said Charles Shepphard, the school's legislative liaison.

"Because we're in a rural area, there are some concerns about the safety of students," Shepphard said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said the security at Alcorn is important. Kirby also said Mississippi Valley is working on an agreement with the city of Greenwood on the water issue.

"That is in our favor. We're going to do everything we can to make it happen," Kirby said.

 

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