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PRESENT SCHOOL SYSTEM.
They provided, in accordance with the stipulations of the new Constitution, for the following officers :
First. A Superintendent of Education, elected at the same time as the Governor, and for the same period, viz., four years.
Second. A State Board of Education, consisting of the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General, and the Superintendent of Public Education; and,
Third. A County Superintendent of Education in each county, appointed by the Board of Education, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a term of two years.
The new school system at first encountered opposition. Its benign influences, however, have overcome prejudices, and now there are very few persons in the State who oppose the system of Public Schools.
There are now employed about two thousand six hundred teachers, and about one hundred and fifty thousand children attend the Public Schools. They were at first looked upon as pauper schools, but now the children of some of the most respectable families in the State attend them, and they are considered the best institutions in the State. Vicksburg, Natchez, Columbus, Jackson, Holly Springs, Greenville, and other cities and towns, have public schools that any city in the Union would be proud of. The studies are those usually pursued in common schools, with German and French in a few of them.
There are eight High Schools in the State, in which there are about one thousand pupils. The number increases every year, and they are growing rapidly in popular favor. The demand for Normal Schools is very great. At present there are only two, situated at Holly Springs, in the extreme northern part of the State, and at Tougaloo, in the central part. These schools are rapidly supplying a pressing demand for competent teachers. At least three hundred of their pupils are employed teaching during their summer vacation.
The State makes an annual appropriation of five thousand dollars for each of the Normal Schools. It is expected that the next Legislature will authorize the establishment of two more such schools in the eastern and southern portions of the State.
In addition to the Common, High, and Normal Schools,
there are two Universities, one at Oxford, in the northern portion of the State, and one near Rodney, in the southeastern portion, known as Alcorn University. The State makes an annual appropriation of fifty thousand dollars to each of these institutions. The one at Oxford is for white young men, that at Alcorn for the colored. Both of them are in a flourishing condition. The whites having always had the advantage of the colored in education are, of course, farther advanced, but the colored young men are making rapid strides, and at every commencement exercise they show decided progress. Oxford University, established for nearly a quarter of a century, and Alcorn University, which has been in existence three years, are provided with fine, commodious buildings, and all the modern improvements in the way of conveniences and furniture.
Each county in the State is required to give a matriculation to each of the Universities, and to each of the Normal Schools a number of students equal to the number of representatives it has in the lower branch of the Legislature. Those entering the Universities receive a fee of one hundred dollars per annum; and those entering the Normal Schools, twenty-five dollars. Public examinations are held for candidates for the institutions, but all of them must come from the Public Schools.
In addition to these, there are about five hundred private schools, including primary and academic. But the number is rapidly decreasing, and will continue, so long as the Public Schools continue in popular favor. The minimum number of months during which a school can be kept, according to the statutes of the State, is four; but in the more prosperous counties they are continued six, eight, and ten months.
The salaries of the teachers are as follows: second grade, from thirty-five to sixty dollars per month, and first grade, from sixty to seventy-five dollars per month. But principals of all schools in which there is an average attendance of one hundred or more pupils, get one hundred dollars per month.
The State tax for teachers' purposes is four mills on the dollar; but every county in the State is required to levy for any deficit that may occur in maintaining the schools at least four months in the year, or it will forfeit its portion of the State tax. In addition to this, the proceeds of the sale of licenses to retail vendors of liquor, and all fines and amercements, and the proceeds of the poll-tax, are given to the general Common School Fund. The Constitution and laws of the State require this fund to be invested in United States bonds, and the interest alone to be distributed, pro rata, throughout the State. An amendment to the Constitution, however, will be submitted at the next general election, authorizing the distribution of the principal to the several counties. The income from these sources is very large, amounting to about two hundred thousand dollars per annum. The schools also derive support from what are known as the Sixteenth Section and the Chickasaw funds. To give a sketch of these funds would require more space than that allotted to Mississippi would permit; it is, therefore, only necessary to state that the money which accrues through these funds is from large grants of land made to the State for school purposes by the General Government.
The total amount of money expended annually for school purposes aggregates about two million six hundred thousand dollars.
Formerly there was a State Board of School Directors. This, however, has been abolished, and all its power and authority are vested in County Superintendents, Boards of Supervisors, Boards of Trustees, Aldermen, or Selectmen, who perform the usual duties of such officials in other States. The salary of the County Superintendents is fixed by law, ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars for the Superintendent of Pearl County, to eighteen hundred dollars for the Superintendent of Yazoo County. The scholastic age is between five and twenty-one years.
With the rapidly developing sources from which funds are applied to the support of the public schools; with a large army of competent and active teachers; with an efficient corps of County Superintendents; and with an enlightened public sentiment, Mississippi will soon take the front rank for an effective system of Public Schools.
Hon. Join MONTEITH, State Superintendent of Public Schools, was born at Elyria, O., January 31, 1833, graduated from Yale College in 1856, and took Master's degree in 1859. He pursued the study of theology under Dr. N. W. Taylor, of New Haven, and entered the ministry, which calling he followed, located successively at Plymouth, Conn., Jackson, Mich., Cleveland, O., and St. Louis, Mo., until 1870, when, from broken health, he retired from the ministry, severed his ecclesiastical connections, and became a farmer in South Missouri. From this retirement he was called to his present position, to succeed Hon. Ira Divoll (deceased), June 29, 1871. Mr. Monteith comes of true educational stock. His father, Professor John Monteith, was one of the founders and the first President of Michigan University. Subsequently he will be recoguized as a resident of New York State, having occupied, for eight years, the chair of Latin and Greek in Hamilton College. Superintendent Monteith brought to his office no inconsiderable benefit from his father's experience, together with a practical experience of his own, extending through several years, as a teacher at the East. Mr. Monteith has been a careful student of the advanced methods of education, and may be classed rather with the liberal than with the most conservative educators.
EDUCATION IN THE PAST.
MISSOURI was admitted into the Union in 1820. Her original Constitution provided for the security of school lands (section sixteen in each township, or one million one hundred and ninety-nine thousand one hundred and thirty-nine acres, and thirty-six sections, or forty-six thousand and eighty acres, for a University), and enjoined "the establishment of one or more schools in each township.” During the first year that Missouri became a State, a general law was passed for establishing and governing common schools, through Commissioners of the School Land in each township. In 1825, however, this law was repealed. In 1837 a State School Fund was instituted out of the proceeds of the Saline lands and the State's proportion of the United States surplus revenue.
This fund had increased, in 1873, to over $2,500,000. In 1853 an act was passed providing for the election of a State Superintendent and the appointment of Commissioners for each county. Notwithstanding these legislative efforts to promote education, little progress was made in establishing schools and diffusing learning through the State, outside of St. Louis.
NEW SCHOOL SYSTEM,
The new Constitution of 1865, however, enjoined the Legislature “to provide for the maintenance of common schools, for the gratuitous instruction of all persons between the ages of five and twenty-one years,” and “to establish separate schools for children of African descent.” The same year the Legislature enacted a common school law, which was amended in 1867, 1869, 1870, and 1872. Under its workings the cause of education made rapid advancement. When the Legislature came together, however, in the winter of 1874, strong reactionary tendencies displayed themselves, particularly in the lower House. A majority of that body were manifestly disposed, in opposition to the views of the State Superintendent and the most enlightened friends of education, to repeal the general school laws, leaving the education of the children to the various localities of the State. The Senate, however, was more conservative, and acted as a check upon this retrograde movement. Finally, in March (1874), after an animated contest, a compromise measure was passed, which, while it did not materially injure the school system, revised the general school law, and was made to take effect at once. The State Superintendent of Public Schools, in a note to the school officers of the State, says: “Your own experience will bear witness to the embarrassment created by so sudden a change of laws, at a time in the year when nearly all the important business of the schools demands attention. The State Department has felt this embarrassment in all its forms, and has endeavored to avert difficulty as far as possible."
THE SCHOOL LAW OF 1874.
With the changes made, the present school system embraces the following main features :
The State Superintendent is elected for four years, gives a bond for $10,000, and receives an annual salary of $3,000. Instead of having an assistant, nominated by himself, confirmed by the Governor, and receiving an annual salary of $2,000, as under the old law, the Superintendent is now empowered to employ a chief clerk, at an annual salary of $1,500.