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 — The Mississippi Legislature convened in the Capitol on Tuesday to start its 133rd regular legislative session and issues surrounding education and roads are already dominating the conversation
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn are currently pushing a reallocation of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the state education funding formula. After a failed attempt by the Legislature to change the school formula in 2017, a new bill is being drafted.
On Thursday, the Mississippi Economic Council heard from a number of officials including Gov. Phil Bryant, Reeves, Gunn and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann on its annual Capital Day.
Each of these officials shed light on their stances about improving the job market in Mississippi with a higher educated workforce and what this would mean for the state. Gunn expressed the value of having an educated workforce to the business leaders.
“If our workforce is well educated and trained, we’re going to prosper,” said Gunn. “If it’s not, we won’t.”
Reeves explained to students from Ole Miss in a private interview that he has a political philosophy that he does not believe it is the job of the government to create jobs, however that he does believe that the government’s role is to create an environment that encourages members of the private sector to create jobs.
He said that this leads back to the quality of our education systems.
“If we’re going to convince folks in the private sector to invest capital and create jobs, they’ve got to know that there’s a workforce available who can actually fill those jobs,” said Reeves. “For us to be able to provide that workforce, we have to improve the educational attainment level of our citizens.”
The lieutenant governor explained that the percentage of students graduating from high school in Mississippi has increased twelve percentage points in the past five years, nearly aligning with the national average. This increase has allowed 3,000 more people to have a high school degree and the opportunity to attend one of Mississippi’s community colleges before entering the workforce.
The educated workforce is one of the largest concerns of the business leaders in MEC.
“If we can’t get the right workforce, our businesses will die,” said MEC Chairman William Yates, CEO of Yates Construction Company.
The Capital Day included a panel of business leaders who held a discussion on regionalism and the impact it has on workforce development. The panel included Ashley Edwards from Gulf Coast Business Council-One Coast, Bill Hannah from East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, Brenda Lathan from Golden Triangle Development Link, and Michael Philpot from the Delta Council-Delta Strong.
Scott Waller also was named the new executive director of MEC.
Business leaders in MEC then got to go to the Capitol and hear from more elected officials and were asked to support the Legislature moving forward.