By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, saying teachers cannot correct all problems that many Mississippi students bring to school, urged churches to get involved in educating children in their communities.
“Separate from government and not as a state program, we need to ask our churches to commit themselves to the education of the children in their congregations and their communities,” Barbour said in prepared remarks at a workforce conference he sponsored Thursday at the Jackson Convention Center.
“I know if the pastor and, especially, the women leaders of our churches decide they must mentor mothers of little children, and work to help their children attend and learn, to study and succeed, those mothers and their children will succeed. They’ll succeed far better and far more often than many are doing today.”
Barbour, speaking primarily to business leaders and educators, said the state’s nearly 55 percent rate of births to single mothers is a leading contributor to the high dropout rate.
“Dropping out today, that is sad for a child,” he said. “It is sad and discouraging for what that child will get out of life. When 29 percent of children drop out, then that becomes that community’s problem. The cascading effect is when one job creator says I’m not sure I can find what I need there. That becomes one community’s problem, one state’s problem.”
Thursday’s remarks followed a Wednesday speech in Tupelo where Barbour spoke of values. He’ll deliver a speech on the budget next week on the Gulf Coast. Gov.-elect Phil Bryant, who will succeed Barbour on Jan. 10, was in attendance Thursday. Barbour noted his administration’s emphasis on workforce training and said more must be done at the community college and K-12 levels to provide students skills because everyone does not need a four-year degree.
Barbour said all levels of education should be asked to use more of their reserve funds to offset the lack of state funds. He has long urged legislators to limit state funding for K-12 school districts during tight budget years, saying they have reserves they can use. But school officials have countered that their reserves were fluid and in essence used to deal with cash flow issues because they receive their revenue in lump sum payments.
Barbour, who went to Ole Miss on a baseball scholarship, also called for the phasing out of state support for athletic programs at community colleges and universities. “Our athletic programs need to cover their own costs,” he said. “Fans, alums and students need to pay for it, not taxpayers.”