By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
PHILADELPHIA – Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum told Neshoba County fairgoers that a strength of the state is its system of higher education, which includes eight universities and 15 community colleges.
“Working together we can and we are accomplishing a great deal to move Mississippi forward,” said Keenum, speaking on the second day of the traditional political speeches at the Founders Square Pavilion.
Higher education leaders were invited to speak by Neshoba County Fair officials because this is an off-election year, meaning fewer candidates were on the agenda.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said education legislation passed during the 2013 session, creating charter schools and requiring most students to read on a basic grade level before leaving the third grade would have a positive impact.
Gunn said in education “for 40 years we have been last … We are tired of it, and we are going to do something about it.”
Keenum told the crowd he is proud to be working with University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones to improve teacher education.
“Working cooperatively, both of our universities are offering substantial scholarships to some of our state’s best and brightest students,” Keenum said.
State Treasurer Lynn Fitch reiterated the importance of requiring students to complete a semester of financial literacy education to graduate from high school. She cited numerous categories where Mississippi residents are at the bottom in financial literacy and said requiring financial education would be “a game-changer” for the state.
While he said he opposed the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney told the Republican-leaning crowd he has worked to make the new law operate as best it could for Mississippians.
“I know a lot of friends and political groups might criticize my effort, but let me tell you, it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith praised the state’s Agriculture Museum in Jackson as “a crown jewel” and urged everyone to visit it. She said it is being updated, including a new exhibit honoring Mississippi farm families.