Is MDE really living up to its mission?

Published 10:32 pm Saturday, June 4, 2016

I’m going to admit up front I don’t know much about the function of the Mississippi Department of Education or its role in educating Mississippi students in the state’s public education system.

I went to its website to try to learn a bit about it and this is what I read:

“The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) provides resources and technical support to Mississippi’s public school system. The department also functions as a resource for federal education requirements and funding.

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“…The MDE seeks to create a world-class educational system that gives students the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and in the workforce, and to flourish as parents and citizens. To make this vision a reality, all students must be given multiple pathways to success, and teachers and administrators must continue to meet the challenges of this ever-changing landscape of public education.”

Sounds like an excellent mission to me. However, anyone familiar with public education in Mississippi knows the Mississippi Department of Education isn’t anywhere near meeting that mission or goal.

Some areas of our state, like Vicksburg and Warren County, are more fortunate than others. We have a progressive public school system with creative, forward-thinking leadership. And we’re seeing results with improving test scores, reading levels and career readiness among students who are educated in the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Still, even with our dynamic leadership, finding ways to fund public education in an environment of ever-increasing bureaucratic mandates and ever-shrinking state funding of public education is a constant challenge.

That’s why I was shocked to read some of the salaries paid to staff members within the Mississippi Department of Education.

According to, a conservative website not necessarily best friends with teachers’ unions, reports that while 16 staffers at the Mississippi Department of Education earned more than $100,000 on June 30, 2014, as of May 31 this year, 20 staffers earned $100,000 or more.

In fact, MississippiWatchdog reports, in 2014 the department had three deputy superintendents with a salary range from $128,000 to more than $224,000 and three associate superintendents with a salary range of $106,000 to more than $186,000. Now, MississippiWatchdog reports the department has six deputy superintendents at the higher salary rate and only one associate.

Further, Dr. Carey M. Wright, the state superintendent of education, earns $307,000 per year and as such is the nation’s highest-paid education leader, according to Mississippi Watchdog.

Seriously? The highest-paid in the nation?

Perhaps every cent of that money is well earned, but it seems a little off-kilter to me that Mississippi, whose funding of public education in Mississippi is in nothing short of complete chaos, would employ the highest-paid education leader in the nation.

I can’t help think, if we could manage to do without a deputy or three, the good those funds could do on the local level, like providing technology or materials that would actually benefit students, or perhaps shoring up some crumbling school building.

I understand the MississippiWatchdog has an agenda, but facts are facts, and those were eye-opening for me.

I hope Dr. Wright’s personal mission is to funnel as much funding as possible to local school districts, where the precious, dwindling tax dollars this state earmarks for education do the most for public school students.

Jan Griffey is editor of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.