Mississippi Super: Make Cheating Districts Pay for Investigations

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Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright would like to see school districts who have been found guilt of cheating to pay the investigation costs associated with the findings.

The suggestion was recently made in front of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I think it’s only fair that if they’re the ones that are culpable, they should have to pay that bill,” Wright said.

Wright said she would like to see the proposal apply not only in situations where superintendents were aware of what was going on, but also when only principals or individual teachers knew.

Senate Bill 2258 was introduced by Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, which would ask principals and teachers to swear that all tests given were administered according to state rules.  A false statement would result in a felony charge and up to three years in prison and $25,000 per year.

In addition, the State Department of Education would be given the power to take sworn testimony and issue subpoenas, as well as to keep investigative documents from the public.  In addition, the state’s Commission on Teacher Licensure would have the right to discipline educators caught cheating, either lying about doing so or failing to report it.  The department would then take over test administration in any schools or districts where suspicions of misconduct arise.

A second bill, House Bill 451, was introduced by House Education Chairman John Moore.  While the bill would force a sworn statement and give the state the power to take over testing, it would not criminalize behavior or offer the state the power to hold its own investigation.

A current investigation of the Clarksdale district is set to finish up within the next six weeks.  It is unknown if any other agencies are taking part in the investigation, and therefore it remains unclear as to whether or not criminal charges will be filed, writes Emily Le Coz for The Clarion-Ledger.

Superintendent Dennis Dupree said the district has already begun to offer new contracts to its employees for the next school year.  He went on to say that the investigation had no influence as to whether or not certain employees were offered to remain in their positions.

Caveon, a firm based in Utah, was hired by the district to investigate at a cost of $300,000.  Officials are looking for a $1 million state appropriation to pay for the investigation.

The department announced last summer that Caveon had found “reasonable cause” to think employees had broken security rules on state exams by boosting test scores.

Historically, the state takes away the professional licenses of teachers and principals found to be cheating.

Meanwhile, a court in Kansas has accused the state of a different form of cheating: through underfunding of the public school system.

Upon hearing the ruling, politicians in the state began to accuse the judges of acting maliciously, calling them “activist,” “political” and “antagonistic.”