The 2014 legislative session ended with good news for Tupelo and Mississippi.
We adopted a balanced $6 billion budget and filled the rainy day fund to its statutory limit. By spending only what the state takes in, Mississippi’s fiscal picture is bright: We’re avoiding tax increases on you, the citizens, and positioning our state to not only attract new businesses but to keep taxes low on existing ones.
My Northeast Mississippi colleagues and I successfully fought to secure support for Cooper Tire, a valuable community partner. When Cooper Tire employees spoke first-hand about their passion for the company, legislators took notice and agreed to help Cooper Tire modernize its facility through a total $20 million in bonds issued over the next three fiscal years.
Economic development wasn’t our only focus. The Legislature also passed measures to support law enforcement, including funding a new trooper school to place more highway patrolmen on the roads.
I am particularly proud of the Law Enforcement Appreciation Act passed in honor of the late Tupelo Police Sgt. Gale Stauffer Jr. and Officer Joseph Maher, injured in the line of duty last year. Now officers will not have to take personal or medical leave to recover from injuries received while protecting the public.
We invested in teachers with a plan that raises teacher pay $2,500 by July 2015 and establishes a School Recognition Program that rewards schools that improve under the state’s accountability system. Better schools mean better learning environments for our children.
And it’s our students that should be our top priority when education policy decisions are made. This year the Legislature failed to put students first by killing legislation that would have helped Mississippi’s special needs students. Rep. Crawford and I worked on companion bills to establish a scholarship program for special needs students to attend the school of their choice – one that meets their individual needs.
I have heard too many stories from parents in our region who must navigate a maze of bureaucracy or our courts to obtain an adequate education for their children, as required by federal law. Parents have told me of their difficulties in getting necessary equipment to help their children learn or having their children’s condition diagnosed and recognized by schools.
As proven by our statewide 23 percent graduation rate of these children, too many schools are not adequately addressing the education of these students. Something must change. We must offer a helping hand to these families.
This is unacceptable. Policymakers must stop being more concerned with maintaining the status quo than affecting positive change for our neediest children. Moms and dads shouldn’t have to go to court to ensure a quality education for their child, nor should they have to fight to get proper diagnosis for autism or any other condition.
As long as parents are fighting for their children, so too will I fight for them in the Mississippi Legislature.
Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, represents District 6. Contact her at email@example.com.