MSMS’ Place In Mississippi: Students connect state lawmakers to the school through Capitol Day


Photo Courtesy of Chuck Yarborough

MSMS juniors and seniors pose on steps of MS Capitol.

Sebastian Harvey, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This article was written earlier in the spring semester. Additional funding was secured after the story was completed.

Thirty-one students from MSMS traveled on March 4 to Jackson for Capitol Day, a longstanding tradition in which both students and faculty show lawmakers the impact of financial investments into the school. 

“Capitol day is an opportunity for us to remind people in Jackson that we’ve been good stewards,” said Thomas Easterling, an MSMS English teacher. “We do not have as large a budget as some of our sister schools, whether you’re looking at it per student, how much money gets spent overall on the school or just academically. As far as funding goes, we have been excellent stewards. And we like to have a chance to remind people that we have done well with the investment that’s been made in us.”

At Capitol Day, students connected with their local lawmakers, toured the Capitol and viewed a session of the House of Representatives. 

Geethika Polepalli, a senior and MSMS Senate vice president, said when they talked to senators, they focused conversations on “how MSMS has positively impacted our lives.”

“We touched on the teachers, the dorms and how having a college experience early was beneficial to us,” Polepalli said.

In Mississippi, most public schools receive the lion’s share of their funding through conventional funding sources, including local property taxes and state allotments based on enrollment. 

MSMS’ budget, however, is “a line item, not based on number of students but just an amount,” said Executive Director Donald Cook. “The more we have on our annual allotment from the state, the more opportunities we’re able to provide.”

The school’s unique position means a direct change to the line item is the only way for its state budget to change.

“We’ve been flat funded for some time. I was looking today, and we’re still a little below where we were in 2008 before the financial downturn,” Cook said. 

MSMS’ stated mission is “to enhance the future of Mississippi in the global society by meeting the individual needs of gifted and talented students through providing innovative learning experiences and leadership development in a residential environment” and to”provide quality educational leadership for other educators and aggressive outreach programs that impact students across Mississippi.”

For Cook, MSMS’ mission of “quality educational leadership for other educators” requires greater funding to fully complete. 

“We have a mission to fulfill, and honestly we haven’t been able to do it all because part of our mission is outreach to teachers,” he said. “Back in the day, our teachers would often do workshops for teachers around the state. We haven’t had the funding to do that. We’ve had to cut back on our mission, and it has even cost us some faculty positions. We’re supposed to be a shining example of what education can look like, and I feel like we’ve got a ways to go and funding is part of the answer.”

Considering the resources allotted to MSMS, Easterling said MSMS has done well in its mission. 

“We’ve been good stewards with the resources that have been allotted to us. Last year, seniors accepted over $7 million in scholarships. That’s roughly a third of what they were offered — less than a third actually. We are an incredible asset to the education system in Mississippi because we show what can work really well and our students can compete with students from around the country and around the world and hold their own. We give the state an awful lot to be proud of.”

If MSMS does receive more funding, the aim is to get new facilities, Cook said. 

“We’ve had some momentum toward new facilities, and we want to keep that going,” he said. 

“MSMS is consistently the top ranked school in the state,” Easterling added. “We’ve been here for three decades, but we’ve never had a single building constructed expressly for our own use. We’ve always taken buildings that belong to the [the Mississippi University for Women]. They’ve been renovated, but it’s simply not the same as having something constructed for us, by us and with our unique educational goals in mind. Should the Legislature give us a green light, we can be ready with plans that would integrate our living and learning community in ways that would work especially well for our students. We can use spaces that are designed for the content of creative and intellectual pursuits that really get our students excited.”

Polepalli also identified MSMS’s facilities as the most important place to direct school funding. 

I would like the funding to go toward renovating our facilities. The dorms, especially, could use some renovation to make them better than they are now. I would also like it to go toward more safety features on our campus, such as blue light boxes and systems to avoid theft and break-ins,” Polepalli said. “The dorms could use some renovation with the elevators, air conditioning and water system. The students should get new dorms because the current ones are outdated and have many safety issues, such as the outlets and leakage on the roofs.”

In essence, Capitol Day is a way for MSMS to connect with the government and demonstrate its importance both within and beyond Mississippi. 

“We are more than disembodied figures on screens, reciting Shakespeare or working on differential calculus. We are human beings who work hard to make the lives of other human beings around us better,” Easterling said.