By NEMS Daily Journal
Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders signaled early that they intended to make education the focus of the 2013 legislative session, which they have done.
Some of the ideas floated are better than others. For that reason, the winnowing that has been done to the education agenda has been largely productive.
Bills providing first-time-ever state funding to early childhood education, based on local collaborative efforts and matching funds, have cleared both houses. Legislation aimed at recruiting more top-flight students to teaching is alive, as are bills that would require appointed superintendents in all districts. An initiative that requires students to read at grade level before promotion from the third grade is winding its way through the process.
And, course, charter schools remain on the agenda with differing bills passed by both chambers. Lawmakers wisely removed virtual, or online, charter schools from the equation.
Another fortunate outcome was the death on the legislative calendar last week of bills that would have diverted public funds to private schools.
But decisions on education, as important as they are, aren’t all that the Legislature is facing. Another perennial issue – health care, specifically Medicaid – is also staring lawmakers in the face.
So far, it’s been a pitched political battle. House Democrats blocked Medicaid reauthorization legislation because it didn’t include parts of the law that could have been amended to allow expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law. The Senate leadership, which opposes the expansion, still left the language in its version, but when it got to the House, Speaker Philip Gunn – determined to keep the House from any debate on the expansion – sent it not to the usual Medicaid Committee but to the Rules panel, where his lieutenants killed it.
While anything related to Obamacare has been a hotly partisan issue in Mississippi, Medicaid expansion is not so in many states. Six states with Republican governors have agreed to the expansion because of the major economic and health care benefits they expect from it.
Cost concerns are certainly justified, but Mississippi should at least have a debate on the issue. Gunn didn’t want one, even though he had the votes in the House to kill any expansion.
Education issues are getting a full airing this session. Why not Medicaid?