Dear Supporters,

The 2018-2019 year marked the beginning of a new decade at Mississippi First. We celebrated our tenth anniversary with friends and supporters at the Mississippi State Capitol and spun off Teen Health Mississippi on January 1, 2019. We also toasted Sanford Johnson, my Mississippi First co-founder, and Angela Bass, our Director of Policy, for their great contributions before they transitioned to new roles outside of Mississippi First. Sanford is continuing to work as an education advocate while Angela has started a new early childhood-focused nonprofit that we hope to work closely with going forward!

In the sections that follow, we describe our major successes of the last year in each of our main issue areas: pre-K; charter schools; standards and testing; and educator pipeline research. A few major highlights include developing a pre-K briefing book for statewide candidates and receiving a positive outcome in the Mississippi charter school lawsuit. We are also extremely pleased to report that Mississippi continues to climb in the national rankings, finally reaching the national average for reading in math in fourth grade. At last, we can say not only that Mississippi has improved faster than the rest of the nation but that we’ve sustained this faster improvement over multiple years!

With each passing year—and each new sign of success—our passion for increasing outcomes for Mississippi students grows. We hope that you will consider supporting our work through a donation of any size. As a nonprofit, we rely on your support. We are ever grateful to our donors and supporters and are careful shepherds of your generosity. We want to extend a special thank you to each of our friends and partners who has contributed this year and in years past.

As always, we encourage you to follow us on social media and join our e-mail list, if you have not already, to remain updated. Enjoy our 2018-2019 annual report!

Rachel Canter, Executive Director


A three-year fight ended successfully this year when the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of charter school funding in Mississippi. Since 2016, Mississippi First has been quarterbacking the efforts of advocates to defend the law, including arranging for defendant-interveners and providing support to the legal defense teams. This positive outcome means the 1,750-plus children receiving their public education from one of the (now) six public charter schools in Mississippi can continue to attend their chosen public school. The ruling also unequivocally affirms what Mississippi First has said all along: public education dollars belong to public school children for their public education. Charter schools in Mississippi are public schools, and funding charter schools is funding public schools.

This year, Mississippi First developed a definitive briefing book on state-funded pre-K in Mississippi. The original impetus for this book was to educate aspiring elected officials about the program and to encourage their support. Along with the book, Mississippi First offered briefings to candidates for the top state offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General) as well as the current chairs of legislative education committees. As a result of these briefings, all of the candidates added expansion of the state program to their platforms! We have also been able to use the book with legislative candidates and to give the book to other interested parties, such as potential donors and the media, to share the information more broadly.

The book’s success has tempted us to think about additional briefing books on other topics, encouraged by the fact that one candidate’s team told us they would love to have something like it for every issue. Currently, the book is not available online due in part to its size, so this publication is our best performing without any press. In 2020, we plan to decide how best to share the information with the public.

Since our inception, Mississippi First has been an excellent steward of its financial resources. From July 2018-June 2019, we invested over $1.8M in our initiatives at Mississippi First and Teen Health Mississippi.

Educator Pipeline

By 2021, Mississippi will increase the percentage of low-income students served by a highly effective teacher. In 2020, we will finish our first phase of research and report findings from state qualitative and quantitative data.

Pre-K

By 2021, at least 35% of children will be in full-time, no-cost, high-quality pre-K seats. In 2020, we will fight to expand pre-K to new communities while ensuring quality and a fair per-pupil cost.

Curriculum

By 2022, MDE will reach an 80% adoption rate of the newly approved, high-quality math curricula as well as any English/language arts (ELA) curricula approved in Spring 2020. In 2020, we will develop and execute a communications strategy that increases teachers’ support for the use of high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum, with a focus on the most recently adopted math curriculum list.

Charter Schools

By 2023, Mississippi will have 15 approved schools in at least three low-performing areas, with capacity to serve 17,250. No charter schools will be below a “C” after 3 years. In 2020, we will focus on improving authorizing through strong policymaking and on growing Mississippi’s charter community.