Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Vicksburg Post on state responsibility for overgrown medians in Mississippi:
The issue around the overgrown medians and state rights of way around Vicksburg is not new. It is not something that sprouted overnight.
We are thankful for the efforts by South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour in working the details of an agreement with the state of Mississippi that would allow city crews and contractors to maintain the medians and state rights of way, but this is a solution, an agreement, that should have been handled long ago.
More than a year ago, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. called for an agreement after state crews were unable to meet the demands of keeping the areas well groomed. At that time, the areas managed by the state were overgrown and an embarrassment.
Nothing has changed since those comments were made.
Well before the calendar turned to spring, warm weather and rain caused the grass in state-controlled areas to grow quickly. Thistles and weeds were being measured in feet, while cars abandoned on the side of the interstate were in danger of disappearing in the tall grass.
With the grass being so high, such an embarrassment, it is a wonder why it has taken until mid-June to reach an agreement. Again, the city knew last year the state could not meet the demands of keeping grass in the Vicksburg well maintained — an agreement should have been reached last year when Flaggs called attention to the problem.
According to city officials, the state is scheduled to make three-to-four cuts each year, as well as scheduled trash and debris cleanups along the state rights of way. To date, nothing has been done by the state.
We understand grass along the interstate and other state rights of way cannot be manicured to the degree of a golf course. We also understate the state budget cannot afford unlimited crews throughout the state keeping the grass cut during the growing season.
An agreement between the state and the city, allowing city crews to help maintain state rights of way in the city limits is a sensible solution. It is one that works for both parties.
Unfortunately, we are a year too late in coming to that agreement.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on state funding for rural hospitals:
Election season is a meaningful time to discuss important issues, and we believe there is a significant topic that must receive attention this summer and fall.
Across the nation, rural hospitals are being squeezed by various financial pressures, a trend that is more acute in one of the country’s poorest and most rural states. Five Mississippi hospitals have closed since 2013, and four others declared bankruptcy last year, although they each remained open. A report released earlier this year by consulting firm Navigant claimed 31 of the state’s 64 rural hospitals were at risk of closing because of poor finances.
It’s a challenge that demands solutions. It’s one that cries out for robust debate from candidates in this year’s statewide elections.
Any time a hospital closes in rural Mississippi, it brings a myriad of consequences. Health care options are limited. Residents find themselves farther from emergency care, and many likely skip primary care visits because of inconvenience. Meanwhile, small communities lose a major employer and an economic driver.
We continue to believe that Medicaid expansion must be part of the path forward. The 2010 Affordable Care Act allows states to offer Medicaid coverage to able-bodied adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. In Mississippi’s case, the federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost. However, the Magnolia State is one of 14 that have declined to expand their coverage.
Mississippi’s hospitals must care for any patient that visits them. When those individuals are unable to pay, the hospitals are left unreimbursed — and their margins are stretched thinner. That’s where Medicaid expansion would make a difference.
For some Republicans, Medicaid expansion has become toxic because of its association with former Democratic President Barack Obama. But the fact is many red states have also implemented Medicaid expansion following conservative principles. Saving rural health care shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
The Mississippi Hospital Association recently unveiled its innovative Mississippi Cares plan that could allow the state to expand Medicaid without expending any taxpayer dollars. Instead, the state’s portion of the cost would be funded by payments from beneficiaries and from hospitals.
Tim Moore, the association’s president and CEO, told the Associated Press the total cost of expansion would be about $1.5 billion. The federal government would cover $1.3 billion, and the remaining $150 million would come from policy payers and hospitals. Moore said if 300,000 recipients paid $20 a month, that would generate up to $72 million a year, although he noted that those in deep poverty would likely be allowed to pay less. Moore said hospitals would pay the other $78 million. Moore also compared the plan to one passed in Indiana under then-Gov. Mike Pence.
We believe this plan is worthy of further study and consideration. It’s time for state officials to get past ideological brands and labels and to roll up their sleeves to address the rural health care crisis.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on falling reading rates among elementary school students:
The good news is that another 3,000 third graders have gotten a high enough score on Mississippi’s reading test to advance to the fourth grade.
The bad news is that, short of a miracle on their last-chance test this summer, up to 5,000 of Mississippi’s 35,000 third graders will fall short and be held back for the coming year. Most likely, between 11 and 14% of the state’s third graders will not move ahead.
Last year only 6% of them had to repeat.
The larger number of third graders who must repeat next year is definitely a concern. The fear is that over time, the third grade will become clogged with kids struggling to pass the test. Plus we don’t yet know whether making them repeat third grade will backfire with more dropouts rather than more achievement.
The reason for the increase in the failure rate, though, is a good one: The state raised the bar of the reading test’s passing grade from the watered-down standard it used before.
In prior years, students who reached the second-lowest of five ability levels were considered to have passed the test. This year, students had to get to the third level to pass. In report card talk, they had to get a C this year, while a D was enough in prior years.
If reading, writing and comprehension are important — and all studies say it is vital that children master these abilities as they move through school and into adulthood — then Mississippi is in principle doing the right thing by requiring higher scores to advance to fourth grade.
There will certainly be some short-term pain in the form of larger third grade classes. More parents will be upset that their children are being held back, but any teacher or principal who gets a complaint about it should tell the parents to help their kids learn more about reading and writing.
The bigger challenge is how to reduce the number of third graders that get held back. The answer is pretty simple: The state and its school districts must invest more money in trained employees who can help.
If it’s correct that 11 to 14% of this year’s third graders will be retained, it’s reasonable to set a long-range goal of cutting that number in half, to the 5 to 7% range.