Annual Report 2015

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2015 MISSISSIPPI FIRST ANNUAL REPORT Leaders in policy. Excellence in education.

Mississippi First champions transformative policy solutions ensuring educational excellence for every Mississippi child.


Dear Supporter, June 30, 2015, marked the end of Mississippi First’s seventh year of operation. As each year passes, we proudly live by our mission to champion transformative policy solutions to ensure educational excellence for every Mississippi child. No longer should Mississippians settle for being last when we should be first. We are extremely proud to present this annual report that documents our work over the last fiscal year. Can you believe we defeated anti-Common Core legislation; promoted state-funded, high-quality early education; and celebrated the approval of two charter schools in Jackson? Our CHART work has grown to encompass not only sex education but also youth-friendly healthcare. Furthermore, our organization is experiencing growth as well with the addition of a new staff person and new grants to support all of our work. We are very appreciative of all the support you continue to provide us as we continue to extend our impact. Stay connected with us as we work to make Mississippi First.

Rachel Canter Executive Director

Matt Bengloff Board Chair






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MISSION & GUIDING VALUES Mississippi First champions transformative policy solutions ensuring educational excellence for every Mississippi child. MSF is dedicated to advancing the best ideas through the policy continuum— research and analysis, public awareness and engagement, advocacy, implementation, and evaluation. Research & Analysis

We publish reports, white papers, and indepth analysis in each of our program areas.


We assess and evaluate policy and implementation processes in order to verify their success.

Public Awareness & Engagement We work with diverse audiences, including students, teachers, school leaders, parents, policymakers, and the general public.



Once policy is passed, we are dedicated to making sure new policies are implemented correctly.


We only support policies which are backed by high-quality research and have the potential to solve or alleviate entrenched problems.


We foster honest dialogue about policy research, options, and challenges of different solutions and willingly communicate our priorities, goals, and strategies to the public and policymakers.


We build relationships within and among local communities to increase citizen voice and engagement especially about important education issues facing Mississippi.


We hold ourselves and others, especially those who influence education, accountable for truth and transparency.

We influence invested stakeholders to do what is best for kids in Mississippi.


We believe all children in Mississippi deserve educational excellence and prioritize those who are or have been underserved.


We form partnerships with organizations and youth with similar goals in order to amplify our collective efforts to better Mississippi.

Non-Partisanship We work with policymakers, politicians, and members of the public who share our goals, regardless of ideology or political party.



THEN Though Mississippi First’s founding year was 2008, the story of Rachel Canter and Sanford Johnson begins far earlier with a little yellow school bus that forged a friendship spanning more than two decades. Rachel and Sanford, who both hail from Starkville, Mississippi, met in 1991 while riding Starkville Public Schools’ Bus #51 after school every day. Experiences in college led both to Teach For America in the Mississippi Delta where the idea for Mississippi First as a nonprofit first began. In 2008, Sanford and Rachel co-founded Mississippi First as a public policy nonprofit dedicated to improving public education in Mississippi.


Today, Mississippi First is a team of six: Rachel Canter, Executive Director; Sanford Johnson, Deputy Director of Advocacy; Angela Bass, Deputy Director of Policy; MacKenzie Stroh Hines, Director of Communications and Operations; Josh McCawley, Director of Teen Health Policy; and Emily Feher, Teen Health Training Coordinator. Our work is dedicated to furthering comprehensive sex education and youth-friendly health services; increasing access to state-funded, high-quality preK; growing the number of charter schools across the state; and improving standards, testing, and accountability among schools.


EARLY EDUCATION Mississippi First is an active advocate for preK in the state of Mississippi and has worked hard to pass legislation that supports early childhood education and promotes state-funded preK.

2009 MSF hosted its first public event supporting preK.

2014 MDE began the implementation of the new law. Currently, there are 11 preK collaboratives receiving state funding.


There are 11 state-funded preK collaboratives in MS.

2012 MSF published Leaving Last in Line to describe how Mississippi can provide state-funded preK.


The MS Legislature allocated $3M for preK.

2013 2013 was a huge year for preK in Mississippi. The Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013. The law was based on recommendations from MSF.


4-yr-olds are enrolled in state-funded preK in MS.


Today, only 4% of 4-yrolds are being served in state-funded preK.

2015 We are continuing to learn more about what early education looks like in Mississippi. We will release our 2nd State of Public PreK in Mississippi report later this year.

$4,300 Total per-pupil cost of state-funded preK per year.


EARLY EDUCATION In 2015, we published the first State of Public PreK in Mississippi (2011-2012) report. This is the first Mississippi report to attempt to quantify publicly funded preK access in every Mississippi community. The report is organized by county and school district. On the county pages of the report, we included county-wide demographic data as well as district-wide financial, accountability, and demographic data. The preK data pages include enrollment data reported by representatives from Head Start and the school districts as well as programmatic data about public school preK.




This year, we again informed the public about the preK tax credit that was written into the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013. We shared resources with accountants, local chambers of commerce, and the preK collaboratives. We hope to increase program funding through the Legislature during the 2016 session.


MSF continues to support the Mississippi Department of Education and its implementation of the new preK law. We serve on the PreK Stakeholder Committee as well as provide general policy advice to the Department. Also, this year, we assisted with the facilitation of collaborative meetings and writing the federal preK grant.





Mississippi First works to raise public awareness of the importance of the Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards, dispel common myths about the standards, and advocate for high-quality implementation of the standards. We worked with college interns at Millsaps, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, and Tougaloo to promote higher standards at college campuses.


2014 We hosted a rally at Millsaps College. Over 70 college students attended from across the state. Students and panelists shared the importance of high educational standards in Mississippi schools.

A D V O C AC Y Our biggest success was making sure Mississippi kept the Common Core State Standards as part of the Mississippi Collegeand Career-Readiness Standards. During the session, multiple bills were filed to ban the standards. We organized college students and teachers to show support for the standards, and we were successful in keeping the standards. Over the next year, Mississippi First will continue to watch the Capitol closely as new information is released on the status of the standards. We are dedicated to raising public awareness of the importance of high standards and meaningful testing and accountability policies.


We collected over 150 letters from college students, parents, and teachers to show their support for the Mississippi College- and CareerReadiness Standards. Letters were given to the Legislative Education Committees.



STANDARDS, TESTING, & ACCOUNTABILITY SB 2161 was vetoed. SB 2161 was the only Common Core bill to make it through both houses. It created a commission to evaluate the standards. The Governor vetoed the bill, so no action is required by law and the standards remained the same. We consider this a win for high educational standards in Mississippi!


2015 We hosted our annual College Capitol Day in Jackson. Over 60 students from across the state met with teachers, legislators, and the Mississippi Department of Education to show their support for high educational standards and learn about the policy making process.


We create materials to help the public understand the standards. This includes making one-pagers for parents about what the standards mean for their students, updating, and developing and launching the Educator Leadership Council, a Council dedicated to organizing teachers who support the Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards.


of MS students DO NOT graduate on time.


Only 11% of MS students taking the ACT meet all 4 college-readiness benchmarks.



MS’s rank in K-12 education in the nation.


EARLY EDUCATION CHARTER SCHOOLS Mississippi First seeks to improve charter school legislation and support the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board.


2 charter schools have opened their doors. 2 more are set to open in 2016.


MS’s charter law ranks 14th of 43 states with charter laws.


Over 240 students attend charter schools in MS.

THE LAW The Mississippi Public Charter Schools Act of 2013 defines public charter schools as public schools that, among other characteristics, • Have autonomy over decisions including finance, personnel, scheduling, curriculum, and instruction; • Are governed by an independent governing board; • Are nonprofit organizations; and • Do not charge tuition. Additional provisions of the law include requiring charter school applicants to receive permission via a majority vote from the local school board in order to establish a public charter school in districts with an “A,”“B,” or “C” rating. The law prohibits private schools from becoming public charter schools. It requires public charter schools’ enrollment of “underserved students” to be at least 80% of the underserved enrollment in the school district in which the charter schools are located.


CHARTER SCHOOLS In 2015, we published Keeping the Promise: Strengthening the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013. In this brief, we compare the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013 to the recommendations made by Mississippi First and the Mississippi Coalition for Public Charter Schools. This brief will assist us as we continue to improve the charter school law. Currently, we are working to enable charter schools to enroll students across district lines and allow charter school teachers to participate in the public retirement system.



MSF supports the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board (MCSAB) in order to facilitate high-quality implementation of the charter school law. We provide needed resources to the MCSAB and the public about how to open a charter school in Mississippi.



The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board is made up of 7 appointees.


# of D- & F-rated school districts in Mississippi.

1 # of school districts with charter schools.



In March 2011, the Mississippi Legislature passed House Bill 999, requiring every school district to adopt a sexuality education policy and corresponding curriculum approved by the Mississippi Department of Education.


The Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens (CHART) Initiative was created by Mississippi First in partnership with the Mississippi State Department of Health with support from the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi.



Mississippi First works with the Mississippi State Department of Health to provide evidence-based, medically accurate, and age-appropriate comprehensive sex education to teens in Mississippi through the Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens (CHART) Initiative. Over 34 schools adopted CHART.

CHART WINS! MSF hired a Teen Health Training Coordinator! Emily provides trainings for evidence-based comprehensive sex education curricula, professional development opportunities for educators teaching sex education and other related courses, workshops and resources for parents, and “youth-friendly” trainings for healthcare providers. We gained 6 new CHART districts: Jefferson Davis County School District, Jackson Public School District, McComb School District, Mississippi School for the Deaf, Canton School District, and Durant School District. Today, there are 32 CHART districts in Mississippi! The Mississippi Youth Council (MYCouncil) completed their first year of raising awareness among youth about STI and pregnancy prevention, and they successfully advocated for comprehensive sex education in Mississippi public schools. They even convinced the Governor to change the wording in his Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month Proclamation in May 2015.

We launched te e


Our new website is dedicated to improving access to sex education and teen-friendly health services in Mississippi.



MSF hired a Teen Health Policy Coordinator to provide issue education and advocacy for local- and state-level policies related to teen sexual health.

Mississippi became a WISE state. The WISE initiative provides funding, partnership development, and best practices to states focused on providing comprehensive sex education.



TEEN HEALTH MSF launched the Mississippi Youth Council (MYCouncil). MYCouncil raises awareness among youth about the need for STI and pregnancy prevention efforts and advocates for comprehensive sex education.


We surveyed over 70 publicly funded health centers in counties with at least one CHART district to find out about the sexual and reproductive health services provided to youth in order to identify gaps/training needs for our youth-friendly training that will start in September 2015. Mississippi First continued to offer professional development and training to teachers across the state through our work with CHART. We also implemented our first youth-friendly training-of-the-trainer in Jackson. These trainers will work with health clinics across the state to make sure they are youth friendly and are complying with minor rights and laws. We established the Youth Advisory Council to help advise our work on youth-friendly services. This group of students will work closely with our youth-friendly trainers to provide training and feedback as we develop resources for Title X health centers in Mississippi. We received our first CDC grant! This grant will provide funds to work with publicly funded health centers to reduce teen pregnancy among youth from vulnerable populations and will expand access to and use of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services to vulnerable youth ages 15-19 in the Mississippi Delta. It will have a huge impact on our work for years to come!

“HOW TO PUT A SOCK ON IT” had over 1,300,000 views this year! It made appearances on EdWeek, Buzzfeed, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Huffington Post, and many other blogs and news outlets. It was a big year for Sanford’s sock!



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MISSISSIPPI FIRST STAFF Rachel Canter Executive Director

Rachel’s responsibilities involve direct interaction with all interested stakeholders, donors, legislators, and other policymakers. She works with the Board of Directors to ensure MSF is functioning according to our mission and goals and operating within our budget and funding restrictions. Rachel also oversees all policy research and advocacy initiatives.

Sanford Johnson Deputy Director of Advocacy

Sanford directs all MSF’s community-level policy outreach and advocacy efforts. He leads the advocacy campaign for the CHART Initiative and state standards and spearheads our organizational outreach. Sanford engages educators, students, parents, and community members through presentations, trainings, and project facilitation.

Angela Bass Deputy Director of Policy

Angela serves as an education policy expert, assisting MSF in enacting its policy agenda. She is responsible for analyzing policy and data, developing policy proposals, conducting advocacy activities directed toward policymakers, leading research projects, writing policy papers, and delivering policy presentations.

MacKenzie Stroh Hines Director of Communications and Operations

MacKenzie is responsible for promoting, enhancing, and protecting MSF’s brand reputation as well as a broad range of public relations activities relative to the strategic direction and positioning of the organization and its advocacy agenda.

Josh McCawley Director of Teen Health Policy

Josh provides issue education and advocacy for local- and state-level policies related to teen sexual health. He works directly with the Deputy Director of Advocacy to assist in district advocacy for the CHART Abstinence-Plus Policy and teacher training on the CHART curricula. He also works with local communities to improve teens’ access to general health services.

Emily Feher Teen Health Training Coordinator

Emily provides trainings for evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education curricula, professional development opportunities for educators teaching sex education and other related courses, workshops and resources for parents, and “youthfriendly” trainings for healthcare providers. She also works to increase youth access to youth-friendly health centers and contraceptive vendors.



Maggie Middleton Board Member

Marty Wiseman Board Member

Mary Thompson Board Member

Owner/Operator of Delta Dairy Cleveland, MS Term: FY2014-FY2016

Retired Executive Director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government & Community Development Starkville, MS Term: FY2016-FY2018

Attorney Jackson, MS Term: FY2016-FY2018

Retired Educator & Farmer Clarksdale, MS Term: FY2016-FY2018


FINANCES The numbers below reflect our revenue and expenses from July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015. REVENUE FY 2015 Program Revenue


Beginning-of-Year Fund Balance $723,095 (Net Assets Released from Restrictions $533,460)

Contract Services


Grants $260,657 Contributions $2,093 Contract Services $73,896 Program Revenue $1,100 FY15 TOTAL REVENUE $337,746

EXPENSES FY 2015 Management & General

Fundraising Fundraising $10,029 Management & General $71,462 Program Services $527,378 FY15 TOTAL EXPENSES $608,869 Program Services

End-of-Year Fund Balance $451,972


SUPPORTERS & PARTNERS Thanks to our generous supporters and partners, MSF is able to reach many of our goals to directly influence education in Mississippi. Thank you for your support and dedication! Advocates for Youth AmazonSmile Anonymous ANSWER Kaitlyn Barton Kevin & Angela Bass Matty Bengloff & Suzette Matthews James Brock Terrace Brown Kelly Butler Mehreen Butt Abram Coetsee Committee for Economic Development CORE Advocates Adrianna Crawford Sarah Doty Educator Leadership Council ETR Emily Feher Grove Foundation Cytha Guynes Courtney Hartung Emily Haven Head Start Collaboration Office Warren & MacKenzie Hines HiTOPS, Inc. Breyanna Hooper Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies Candice James W.C. & Everlyn Johnson Daniel Kees Kellogg Foundation Joshua Lewis Louisiana Public Health Institute

Josh McCawley Maggie Middleton Millsaps College Mississippi Charter School Association Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board Mississippi College Mississippi Department of Education Mississippi Public Broadcasting Mississippi State Department of Health The David and Lucile Packard Foundation PIE Network Omarr Peters Christopher Pitts Dori Schoonmaker Adam Smith Holly Smith Jamie Sproles Sarah Staten School Leadership Roundtable Triuna Taylor Tougaloo College University of Mississippi Julius Rainey Andrew Van Horn Brianna Warner Arnisha White The Women’s Foundation of Mississippi Walton Family Foundation Chambliss Williams Charles Woods William Young Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed (WISE) Initiative


Support Us!

Our organization’s foundational belief is that broken public policy has historically impeded progress in Mississippi. Your support helps us serve Mississippi’s children and families through our work with communities and policy makers. Our current issues include charter schools, preK, teen health, and the support of high educational standards. Please partner with us to advance transformative policy solutions that ensure educational excellence for every Mississippi child.

Donate Today!

You can donate today at; mail your gift to P.O. Box 1159, Jackson, MS 39215; or call our Executive Director at 601.398.9008 for more information on how you can make a difference at Mississippi First.

P.O. Box 1159 Jackson, MS 39215 125 S. Congress St., Suite 1510 Jackson, MS 39201 phone: 601.398.9008 website: e-mail: