By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
PHILADELPHIA – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves took aim at some in the education establishment “more focused on the appearance of success than on achieving real results” during his speech Wednesday at the Neshoba County Fair.
Reeves, the first-term Republican lieutenant governor, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Attorney General Jim Hood were the only statewide officials to speak at the historic Neshoba County Fair on the first of two days of political speeches.
Speaking to a sparse crowd on a non-election year at the Founders Square Pavilion, Reeves criticized some for opposing charter schools and said he would continue to work to enact a strong charter school law during the upcoming session.
Reeves also was critical of the state Board of Education for removing the graduation rate from the standards used to determine how well schools are doing. Reeves said the board removed the graduation rates from the accountability model in response to legislation approved during the 2012 session at his behest to require districts to be rated A, B, C, D, and F instead of the current seven-tiered system that rates Star as the best performing.
Reeves had been critical that in some instances districts deemed as successful included schools that were underperforming.
Reeves said the new model will be more transparent.
“The education status quo is failing us,” Reeves said. “The way up is not to bury our heads in the sand. It’s to confront the hard truths – and change our approach.”
After his speech, Reeves acknowledged he had no evidence of the reason the board removed the graduation rates from the accreditation model. The state board has said the change was for one year as it restructures the accreditation model.
Reeves also stressed that he supports additional funding for education and that there are many hard-working teachers and administrators.
Reeves also said he would continue to work to pass strong charter school legislation. Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the rules and regulations of traditional public schools. Charter school legislation was killed during the 2012 session by a bipartisan group of legislators.
“I have a message for people in both parties who are scared of the future of education reform – buckle your seats,” he said. “Reform is coming to Mississippi.”
Hood, the only statewide Democratic elected official, steered clear of politics in front of what is a traditionally a staunchly pro-Republican crowd. Instead he touted areas where his office is focused, such as combating cybercrimes, particularly against youths, and domestic violence.
He said five years ago Mississippi was among the five states with the highest percentage of homicides stemming from domestic violence. He said through changes in law and an aggressive education campaign, Mississippi now ranks 22nd.
“I intend to see us go even further down that list,” he said “That is something you can do for people to make the state better.”
Pickering said his office recently was recognized nationally for its efforts to ensure that federal stimulus funds awarded to Mississippi were “not wasted.”
He said since taking office in 2008, more than 100 people have been convicted for misspending taxpayer funds.
During the past year, he said his office recouped more than $1 million in misspent taxpayer funds.
“We continue to protect the public’s trust through evaluations of accounting practices and aggressive investigations of alleged wrongdoing,” Pickering said in an annual audit report that was released on the same day he spoke. “We believe the taxpayers of Mississippi deserve no less.”