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Secret's Out on School Consolidation in Mississippi

The facts are now out on school consolidation in rural Mississippi.

On Tuesday, local advocacy group Southern Echo posted on its web site a table and a map showing data used to recommend consolidation of 18 rural, high-poverty school districts in the state. The state commission studying consolidation and the consultant that prepared the report had kept that information secret, but Southern Echo and the non-profit MS Delta Catalyst Roundtable used the state's open records law to get the data from the state Department of Public Instruction.

That disclosure may provide additional fuel for groups such as Southern Echo that are fighting consolidation. Earlier this year, a commission appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour tentatively recommended merging rural, predominantly African-American districts in the Mississippi Delta. Then, in June, confronted with public criticism over secrecy and anger at the prospect of disbanding school districts, the commission asked for more time for its members to reach a consensus. Here's a second link.

The consolidation debate in Mississippi began in January, when Barbour appointed a panel, the Commission on Mississippi Education Structure, to look at closing school districts in that state. Barbour has said he would like to see a reduction of the state's 152 districts to about 100, which he has said would save the state millions of dollars over time.

The table and map show the Quality Distribution Index (student performance) rankings, the enrollments, and the cost per student of central office expenses for the 2008-2009 school year for the 18 districts targeted for consolidation. The consultant's report based its projections of cost savings on that data.

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