Empowering low-wealth grassroots communities requires building the capacity to impact the formation and implementation of public policies to address the needs and interest of community. Southern Echo focuses policy work on those issues that are most urgent, have the broadest impact, and provide a basis for collaboration across traditional barriers of race, class, political affiliation and geography.
Southern Echo focuses on fundamental changes in these policy areas because they can have a transformational impact on low-wealth grassroots communities:
Public Education Funding
Public education is the primary gatekeeper. In Mississippi it is woefully under-funded. Mississippi education ranks at or near the bottom when compared to other states. Quality public education for all children is key to a just society. Southern Echo public education funding goals focus on:
In Mississippi children who qualify for free lunch are regarded under state law as children at-risk. Statistically, children at-risk are more likely to drop out or graduate late or graduate not college-ready. Children at-risk are more likely to have teachers who are not qualified, have fewer years teaching, and do not have the experience basis to understand and meet their education and support requirements. Teacher and administrator expectations for children at-risk are often lower than for other students and their needs are more likely to be ignored. Relevant federal and state programs are under-funded, under-utilized and under-enforced. This must change!
Almost 40 percent of Mississippi high school students fail to graduate or do not graduate on time. A high percentage of graduates are not college-ready. Approximately 25 percent are considered to have dropped out. Parents and students needs to be actively engaged in the formation and implementation of programs to reduce dropout and maximize graduation rates. Effective school leadership and quality teachers are critical elements in the fight to reduce the loss of children from the education system. It will take organized community pressure to enable the state to appropriate sufficient funding to public schools to address these issues.
A Healthy Schools strategy focuses on creating an atmosphere of mutual respect among students, parents, teachers and administrators. Schools need to use research-based programs designed to provide the meaningful support students and teachers need to solve problems, rather than systematic punishment and exclusion of students as the primary response when students experience behavioral difficulties. Positive behavior intervention strategies, including teacher support teams and conflict resolution programs, build affirmative models for solving problems. Rigid enforcement of punishment policies, including beating students and putting them out of school and onto the street, teach students counter-productive lessons and inappropriate models.
The developing field of early childhood learning and care involves the creation of public policies and funding to address the growth and education needs of young children in the years before they attend school. Southern Echo is working with a team of consultants to develop research-based learning and care models that begin with pre-natal and extend through age ten that respect the history, culture and needs of children and families. Southern Echo is working to build support for public policies that support appropriate models and to oppose strategies that are rooted in historic race and class biases.