Kicking off the second week of the legislature in session, Gov. Phil Bryant addressed Mississippians on Tuesday with his State of the State speech.
He shared his vision for the state as well as issues that are already underway. He started with the idea of two Mississippis, one that he said critics would say is declining and has suffering people.
He quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s quote of critics and the man in the arena, and noted the media’s role in portraying Mississippi.
“The Colonel, or “T.R.” as many knew him, would have had little patience for today’s cynical climate-headlines that daily, sometimes hourly, trumpet failure or supposed misdeeds, where any audit or compliance review is called an investigation, and any study from any source, that labels Mississippi last or least is blasted on the front page,” Bryant said.
Bryant said that the other Mississippi he described was one full of progress.
“It [Mississippi] is inhabited with caring, hard-working people of all races and ages who strive valiantly every day to make this wonderful state a better place to live and raise our children,” said Bryant.
He noted the unemployment rate in Mississippi dropping to 4.9 percent and 4.8 last year, making it the lowest it has been since 1979. He spoke of new jobs that the state has to offer, including those that will come from Continental Tire coming to Mississippi.
He acknowledged the government’s role in the success of the state’s economy.
“This session, I will have some other recommendations to reduce more government regulations and unleash the independent spirit that will make Mississippi the most job-friendly state in America,” said Bryant.
He touched on a number of issues facing the state, including the opioid and illicit drug epidemic as well as the state’s education system.
Bryant said that the state’s education system is better than it has ever been, noting that more than 90 percent of the state’s third graders have passed their reading exam and that the graduation rate has risen above 80 percent.
He talked about the Governor’s State Early Childhood Advisory Council, which has been tasked with helping address issues in our state education system including poverty, abuse, neglect and lack of leadership.
He also shared his support for updating the current education funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which has only been fully funded once.
“I believe it [the formula] should serve as a road map to success for every child in Mississippi’s public schools,” said Bryant. “By the way, most of us want more than just an adequate education in Mississippi. We want a great one.”
The current formula is a large topic of conversation among many state officials.
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said in an interview with the Capitol Press Corps class at Ole Miss that the current formula does not work and no single party is to blame for that because both parties have been in charge of the formula while it was not fully funded.
“It’s not a party thing,” said Gunn. “It’s not a race thing. It is just a system that doesn’t work, and I think that everybody needs to embrace that reality.”
Gunn recently filed a bill to rewrite school funding and provide more predictability to school district funding. The bill proposes funding that is pupil-based rather than program-based.
There will be a base student cost of $4,800 for every kindergartener to 12th grader. There are additional weights to the funding for characteristics of students, including gifted students, English-language learners, low-income status, special education diagnosis and high school students.
Other issues from the governor’s speech, including workforce and healthcare, will also continue to drive conversation in the Capitol for weeks to come.