GOP lawmakers will choose from among several of their colleagues who want to be speaker of the House. Since the Republicans now hold at least a 64-58 majority, the favorite who emerges will almost certainly be elected speaker in January.
Republicans haven’t controlled both houses of the Legislature at the same time since post-Civil War Reconstruction days in the 1870s. The election of a House Republican majority and a speaker from the GOP will cap off a stunningly rapid partisan transformation that began in earnest with the election of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour eight years ago.
Now that Republicans have the majority in both the House and Senate, they will bear responsibility for ensuring that what comes out of the Legislature is geared toward the long-term uplifting of the state and not simply peripheral ideological causes.
That means attention to education at all levels, beginning with a commitment to keeping the Mississippi Adequate Education Program funded as close to the formula prescribed by state law as is humanly possible in these still tough economic times. It means progress toward the “mid-level” funding for community colleges, critical as they are to the state’s economic development efforts, and university funding that recognizes the close connection between higher education and the state’s ability to maximize its own internal resources while holding down the tuition spiral that is hurting so many families.
A governing majority can’t simply say that education needs to become more efficient and continue to cut its resources. It needs to develop legislation and make the difficult decisions that encourage efficiency – consolidation of school districts, for example – while recognizing that efficiencies alone can’t make up for inadequate financial resources. This is especially true when K-12 education in Mississippi is under the toughest accountability standards ever, with performance expectations – and the consequences for not meeting them – higher than they’ve ever been.
A common theme among Republican legislative candidates this year was job creation. There is no more important element in the short- and long-term business of creating jobs in Mississippi than ensuring that our education system is the best it can be.
The Legislature over the next four years will be forced to determine in much more detailed and perhaps dramatic ways than ever before the essential priorities of state government. That will be the key task before the Republican majority, and it will be the basis on which its success will be judged.