This is one in a series of stories produced by students taking a state government reporting class at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. The class is led by Mississippi Today co-editor Fred Anklam Jr. and Meek school journalism professor LaReeca Rucker.
JACKSON — Education funding is sure to be on the forefront of much policy debate as lawmakers convene for the 2018 legislative session.
After yet another year where the state failed to produce sufficient funds to satisfy the current education funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, lawmakers are placing adequately funding education at the top of their to-do lists for 2018.
“I would tell you I am most passionate about improving the educational outcomes of Mississippi students,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a private interview with University of Mississippi journalism students this week. “I am very passionate about issues that surround educational improvement.”
Rather than focusing on the funding pitfalls, Reeves highlighted the positives that have taken place since his term began as lieutenant governor; among them, a Mississippi graduation rate that has risen from 70.5 percent to 82.5, less than a point below the national average.
“That is a big deal, because that’s creating 3,000 more people per year with a high school degree,” Reeves said. “3,000 more people per year with a high school degree, over time, is going to have a huge impact on the quality of our workforce.”
Reeves also touched on two policy areas that he has championed to help improve Mississippi’s education. School choice and public charter schools, both alternatives to traditional public schooling and highly-debated issues, were touted by Reeves as ways to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to have a competent and educated workforce.
“I believe strongly, and I recognize there are good people who disagree with this, but I believe strongly in school choice, and I believe strongly in giving parents an option on what is best for their kid,” Reeves said. “I think parents have a better idea what’s best for their kid than any governmental entity ever will.”
He continued by praising the creation of public charter schools around the state, and noted the existence of competition as a way to spark improvement in traditional public schools.
“We have been strong supporters of trying to add public charter schools, especially in low income areas,” Reeves said. “I believe that by creating options, creating competition, those public charter schools will not only improve the learning environment for those kids that choose to move, but also, in the long term, I believe you will see improvement in traditional public schools because of the competition that these public charter schools provide.”
At the annual Mississippi Economics Council Conference, top lawmakers and businessmen and women from around the state echoed Reeves and cited workforce development and education as the top issue for a flourishing economy.
“We need to have a competent workforce,” said William Yates, chair of the Mississippi Economic Council. “60% of the business people we interviewed said workforce development is the number one issue for a robust economy, and there is still room for improvement.”
As the state surely faces much debate over education funding for the 2018 session and an unanswered proposal from independent firm EdBuild still looms over the state legislature, Reeves concluded his speech to the MEC on a positive note with hope for the future.
“We are seeing improved results,” Reeves said.