By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Mississippi’s political leadership talked to the state’s business leadership Wednesday about the importance of education.
“The most aggressive … legislative session on education will take place next year,” Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event where much of the state’s business community hears from the elected leadership.
Speaking under a large tent on the grounds of the state’s Agriculture Museum, Bryant said during the upcoming session he would promote his plan to pay teachers based on performance and to ensure children are not promoted to the fourth grade until they can read on grade level. But he promised additional training for teachers to provide innovative ways to help children read.
Many of the state’s other political leaders spoke about education at the event where Mississippi’s trade relationship with Canada was highlighted. A key to maintaining that trade relationship and enhancing it with Canada and other countries is education, various leaders said.
“We have to do a better job of educating our children,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, told the about 1,000 people in attendance.
Even Republican Treasurer Lynn Fitch focused her speech on education – financial literacy. She said she would work during the 2013 session to convince the Legislature to make Mississippi the fifth state in the nation to require students to take a semester on personal finance before they graduate.
“Our children’s understanding of financial literacy is a game changer,” she said.
Attorney General Jim Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat, said the MEC has long supported the state spending money on early childhood education. But he said many of the political leaders supported by MEC members have balked on that effort.
Hood said he had been a prosecutor for 20 years and has sought tough sentences, but he said he has come to the conclusion “you can’t prosecute your way out of the problems we have.”
Hood said by spending money “on the front end” on early childhood education the state can save expensive expenditures on prisons, and various social programs, like Medicaid.
Later Bryant did say, while he had problems with the state getting involved in education at such an early age, “I cannot believe it is not a good thing to teach a child to learn as early as possible.”
He said ideally early childhood education should be the responsibility of parents, but all too often that is not happening. Mississippi is the only state in the South not to expend state funds on early childhood education.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves highlighted his support of charter schools and appointed school superintendents. Charter schools are public schools that operate outside many of the rules and regulations of traditional schools.
Reeves pointed out that about half of the nation’s elected superintendents are located in Mississippi.
Gunn said, “I think school choice is an option we have to try.”
When asked after the speech to explain what he meant by school choice, he said, “Charter schools, I guess is one option. … That is what has been on the table.”
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said, “Education needs to run like a business to generate the skills required to educate our young citizens. Simply paying your taxes will not be enough. If you are not on the school board or meeting with your principals and teachers demanding quality education, you should assume we will maintain the status quo.”
State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper also spoke.
Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo, a heavy favorite in Tuesday’s election against Democratic challenger Albert Gore of Starkville and two minor party candidates, spoke of the need to reduce the federal deficit and create jobs. Gore spoke of the need to preserve Social Security and Medicare
The 82-year-old Gore said he is healthy and expects to serve two six-year terms.
State elected officials will not be on Tuesday’s ballot, which will consist primarily of federal races and judiciary contests.