Gov. Phil Bryant’s State of the State speech Tuesday evening was chock full of facts and figures that illustrate prosperity under Republican leadership.
Mississippi Today reporters researched some of the governor’s statements on education, health care, taxes and the economy and produced this round-up of fact checks and contextualization.
Bryant: We must do all in our power to allow good teachers to become great ones. This should include continuing to fund at the highest level Teach for America and National Board Certified Teachers.
Fact check: Teach For America has struggled to manage recruitment and training operations with current state funding, according to this 2016 article from Mississippi Today. Teach For America received approximately $4 million less from the state in 2016 than the prior year, or $1.8 million. The organization says it’s projected to receive about the same amount this fiscal year.
In Mississippi, National Board Certified Teachers receive a $6,000 bonus to their annual salaries for receiving their certification. Mississippi stands out in this regard among some of its Southern counterparts where, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, some certified teachers do not receive a bonus.
Bryant: I continue to believe parents should have the freedom to use their tax dollars to send their child to the school of their choice, not one decided by the government.
Fact check: In the second year of Mississippi’s disability voucher program, the demand outnumbered the supply and the Mississippi Department of Education held a lottery to award some of the 435 available vouchers for the 2016-2017 school year. As of July, 257 applicants remained on the waiting list, although 113 scholarships remained unused.
Bryant: For the first time in Mississippi’s history, more than 90 percent of our third graders have passed their reading exam …
Fact check: This statement is true. The “more than 90 percent” statistic encompasses students who scored above the lowest of five achievement levels on the 3rd grade reading test. In comparison, only 36 percent of 3rd graders scored at levels 4 or 5, or proficient and advanced, last school year. Sixty-nine percent scored a Level 3 or higher. State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright has long said the bar for passing the 3rd grade test is too low and must be raised. Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, students will have to score above a Level 2 to continue to the 4th grade.
Bryant: Our high school graduation rate has risen above 80 percent.
Fact check: At the same time the graduation rates across the state have increased, students also have more options for graduating. The Mississippi Department of Education recently added alternative options for graduation that could replace the passage of the end of year subject-area tests. Before the 2014 school year, students had to complete the required number of Carnegie units and pass subject-area tests in order to earn a diploma. Now students may graduate by passing the required courses and either passing the subject-area test, obtaining a score of 17 or higher in the subject on the ACT or earning a C or higher in a dual enrollment/dual credit course. In the 2018-2019 school year, students will be able to use subject-area test scores as 25 percent of their final course grades.
Bryant: More than $100 million has been directed to teacher pay raises …
Fact check: Gov. Bryant signed a bill raising teacher salaries in 2014, but teachers in Mississippi are among the lowest paid in the country with an average salary of $44,659 last school year, according to State Superintendent Carey Wright.
Bryant: We ended the election of local superintendents and dyslexia identification and response all became a reality.
Fact check: The Legislature did vote to appoint local superintendents. The Legislature also established a dyslexia therapy scholarship for students to use at five special schools across the state. The legislation also required schools to screen students between kindergarten and first grade.
Bryant: Charter schools, early learning and school choice for special needs children all exist today because of the difficult decisions made by many of you here tonight.
Fact check: Four years after the charter school law was passed, three charter schools are currently operating in the state, and all are located in Jackson. The charter schools struggle with test scores and accountability ratings, though supporters say they expect student achievement to improve with more time.
Midtown Public Charter School, for example, received an F rating from the state this year, while both Reimagine Prep and Smilow Prep received D grades. One additional charter school — the first outside of the capital city — is set to open in the Delta next school year.
The 10 state-funded early learning collaboratives across the state are outperforming students in other pre-kindergarten programs, but nearly half of school districts didn’t offer any kind of pre-K last school year.
Bryant: In December of 2016, I issued an executive order creating the Governor’s Opioid and Heroin Task Force to address this problem … I am proud to say the recommendations and resulting actions by the task force members were swift and courageous.
Fact check: One of the first enacted recommendations of the task force — distributing to all law enforcement officers Narcan, a lifesaving drug that immediately reverses the effects of an opioid overdose if administered in time — has been a success. In the first month of the program, law enforcement officers successfully deployed Narcan 23 times. Each deployment was successful.
This fall the Board of Medical Licensure drafted new opioid prescribing recommendations, based on recommendations from the task force, ahead of the legislative session, which board member Randy Easterling said was an attempt to let doctors, not elected officials, govern themselves.
The initial recommendations were deemed impractical and potentially dangerous by many doctors, patients and public health experts, forcing the board to redraft these rules. The new draft is currently available for public comment on the Secretary of State’s website.
Bryant: Working together, we have also built a new world-class medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It will train the physicians so desperately needed in a state under-served by medical professionals. Because of your help, we are well on our way to achieving our goal of adding 1,000 new physicians by 2025.
Fact check: The state likely will add 1,000 new physicians to the workforce by 2025, but it’s not clear that this increase can be attributed to the new medical school nor is it likely that the overall number of physicians in the state will dramatically increase.
Since 2008, University of Mississippi Medical Center has been slowly ramping up first year class size, going from 110 for the class of 2012 to 165 for the class of 2022. This increase has been greatly aided by the new medical school, a $76 million facility constructed with bonds and state dollars, which accommodates large class sizes. But even if the class size had immediately jumped to full capacity in 2012, that would mean that expanding the medical school would at best increase the number of the doctors in the state by 770.
Bryant: I have requested a workforce requirement for able-bodied adults from the Center of Medicaid and Medicare Services. This is not, as some would have you believe, a punitive action aimed at recipients. It will actually help this population reap the rewards of a good job, and one day receive health care coverage from their employer, not the state or federal government.
Fact check: Imposing this requirement will effectively remove an entire category of beneficiaries from the Medicaid rolls. More than 700,000 Mississippians receive Medicaid. Of these, approximately 56 percent are children. Another 37 percent are either pregnant women, elderly or disabled. None of these populations would be affected by the work requirement. Instead, the work requirement would affect low-income parents or caretakers, who account for 7 percent of Medicaid recipients. This equates to approximately 50,000 beneficiaries, although caretakers responsible for children or other people who cannot be left alone would be exempted, reducing the number further.
In order to qualify for Medicaid in Mississippi as a low-income caretaker, a person with one dependent cannot receive more than $306 per month in income. The waiver would require beneficiaries in this category to work at least 20 hours a week. A minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equals $580 a month, making these recipients ineligible. If recipients don’t work, they will also lose eligibility status.
Jobs, budget and economy
Bryant: Mississippi now ranks in the top ten states in the nation for economic development opportunities.
Fact check: Gov. Bryant did not cite the source of this information, but it appears to come from the annual survey of Area Development magazine, which Bryant cites frequently. In the most recent report, Mississippi ranked No. 9 for “top states for doing business.”
Bryant: With the expansion of the shipyard and the re-opening of the east shore, Ingalls is where the Navy builds the warships that keep America free and secure … Roxul expanded a second plant in Marshall County adding 90 additional employees and a $40 million investment. Northrop Grumman in Jackson County has added 60 new aerospace jobs and made a $3.7 million corporate investment at its UAV assembly plant. Borg Warner announced an additional corporate investment of $20 million and added 75 new jobs to its Water Valley plant.
Fact check: Gov. Bryant and his colleagues in the Republican leadership often say one of government’s primary roles is cultivating a climate that spurs economic development. Several of these projects were made possible with taxpayer-backed incentives.
Shipyard expansion has been underway for years. As recently as February 2016, the Legislature approved spending $11 million through the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Authority to help expand the port and lure shipbuilders. The Port of Gulfport also kicked in $25 million in Katrina community development block grants to improve infrastructure.
For the Roxul project, the Mississippi Development Authority, a state agency, provided assistance through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund for site prep, road improvements and workforce training. MDA also worked with Borg Warner through its Momentum Mississippi incentives program, which provides assistance for construction and training.
Bryant: Twice last year, the unemployment rate in Mississippi fell to 4.9 percent, and was 4.8 percent in November. That is the lowest since unemployment levels began to be recorded in 1979.
Fact check: The November unemployment rate of 4.8 percent is the lowest ever recorded in state history, but 42 states reported lower unemployment rates in November, making Mississippi’s jobless rate among the nation’s highest.
Bryant: These and so many other projects and expansions are proof that when government creates a tax and regulatory climate that encourages growth – and then gets out of the way so the private sector can harness its innovative character – our economy thrives, more of our citizens experience the dignity and affirmation of a good-paying job, and our state is made stronger.
Fact check: Through the first six months of the current fiscal year, revenues have exceeded projections. In the two previous budget years, revenues dragged, prompting mid-year budget cuts and cuts to annual budget appropriations.
In 2016, the Legislature passed the single largest tax cut in history, completely eliminating the corporate franchise tax and the 3 percent bracket of the individual income tax. That tax cut has already begun cutting into annual revenues, but by fiscal year 2028, when the cut will have been fully phased in, Mississippi stands to lose at least $415 million per year in revenue.
Some budget experts and other officials do not believe the cut will attract enough corporations investing more capital here, thus making the projected economic growth hard to achieve.
That largest-ever tax cut most greatly benefits out-of-state corporations, according to a Mississippi Today analysis. Meanwhile, many of the state’s largest cities and counties are raising taxes to pay for basic public services.