By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Mississippi Legislature’s focus on education this year yielded some valuable changes, Lafayette County legislators said Monday at the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative review luncheon.
Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, noted charter school possibilities and an emphasis on literacy by third grade.
“I think we got a viable bill that’s going to focus on children … who are consistently failed by their schools,” he said.
Mayo also touted such 2013 advances as increasing teacher qualifications, a pilot program of scholarships for aspiring teachers and a start at trimming the number of school districts.
Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said that last year Mississippi’s 152 districts included 57 that graded D or F, while only three graded A.
“We want to make sure those children have the best opportunity to reach their potential. A lot of them don’t, in failing schools,” he said.
Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, said agriculture, transportation and most other major issues took a back seat to education and the ongoing Medicaid debate. But he named as successes a catfish labeling law that will help protect Mississippi aquaculture and new laws aimed at protecting gun rights.
Rep. Nolan Mettetal, R-Sardis, pointed to the University Medical Center’s state appropriation as a prime investment.
“The state only puts $174 million in that budget for the Medical Center, and the Medical Center generates the rest,” he said, adding that 100 percent of students in the medical and dental schools are Mississippians.
Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said a national Internet tax law would provide the state new revenues and put brick-and-mortar stores in more even footing.
“A local business in Oxford or Taylor or Water Valley or Batesville … ends up being a showroom,” he said. “People come in, price the merchandise and order it online.”
Reynolds advocated both for teacher pay increases to match surrounding states and for Medicaid expansion – an option so divisive that legislators will require a special session even to renew the existing coverage after June 30.
“Our end goal needs to be what’s best for Mississippi and its people,” Reynolds said.