Jim Hood tours Lucy Webb Elementary School in Greenville, Tuesday, September 17, 2019.

GREENVILLE — Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood revealed his K-12 education plan in the Delta last week. 

It centered on the following key points:

  • Implementing statewide pre-K
  • Investing in and fully funding public schools 
  • Combatting the critical teacher shortage
  • Providing raises for teachers
  • Creating an education transition committee
  • Evaluating state testing requirements

“The economists now agree that education is the best dollars that a state can spend for economic development,” Attorney General Hood said to the crowd at Lucy Webb Elementary School in Greenville. “The issue of early childhood education — we can do that in the first month of the Legislature. It’s $31 million is what it would cost us. I brought in more than that on drug case overcharge settlements every year.”

Hood was speaking in a region where the teacher shortage outpaces that of the entire state. In North Bolivar Consolidated School District, for example, 24 percent of the teaching staff was not certified last school year. The statewide average of non-certified teachers during the same year was five percent. 

Part of the plan to alleviate the shortage involves expanding tuition forgiveness programs for teachers who work in the state five years after graduating. In the short term, Hood suggests letting retired teachers come back to the classroom to teach while still drawing retirement. 

He also discussed re-evaluating some of the existing requirements that are occasionally pointed to as barriers for those trying to enter the teaching profession. 

“[The legislature] put this 21 ACT score on teachers and that’s cut back by hundreds of teachers that could have gotten certified. I look around the Legislature, the ones who passed it going, ‘I wonder how many of them over there got a 21,’” Hood said. 

Reviewing what teacher requirements should be could fall under the purview of an education transition committee Hood would create if he were to get elected. That committee would also study the Department of Education in general and whether or not Mississippi needs to be testing students the way that it does. 

“I don’t know if [MDE is] correctly interpreting federal law,” he said of federal testing requirements.

Hood’s speech was peppered with acknowledgments that the Delta has disproportionately been damaged by certain education policies, the Legislature’s failure to pass competitive pay raises and refusal to fully fund the public education formula. 

When asked how his education plan would address these inequitable gaps, Hood said that’s part of the reason why he came to the Delta to discuss education. 

“I’m going to be asking teachers and people in education that have tried to help me develop a plan so that we can particularly help in the Delta. That’s part of what I’m doing here today, is to get suggestions from people,” he said. “If we win then we’re going to have transition committees to implement those things to put it down in legislation so that the first year we can get some things passed.”

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Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she worked as a Mississippi Delta-based reporter covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.