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Sold out crowd supports MCEE in second year

In the two years since the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE) was relaunched, approximately 2,000 teachers have been trained to teach around 200,000 students about economics and personal finance.

At the MCEE’s second annual Forum on Economic Enterprise, a sold-out crowd of educators, business and political leaders honored the man behind the movement, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), with the MCEE’s first Leadership Award. The MCEE was discontinued in the 1980s but was brought back to life after Cochran went to 250 business leaders around the state to help start it up again.

The non-profit, non-partisan MCEE is the state’s only professional development organization for economic education. MCEE’s mission is to ensure that K-12 teachers provide quality instruction in economic and personal finance. In a taped address, Cochran said one of the best investments Mississippi can make is economic literacy.

“It makes all Mississippians part of the solution,” he said.

Post Katrina, the group’s work is more important than ever, said MCEE chair Dr. Ted Alexander, who is CEO of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation. While Hurricane Camille cost the state $1.29 billion in 1969 dollars, Katrina will cost between $40 billion and $50 billion in 2005 dollars, said Alexander. Such upheaval makes it even more critical that children leave school with a firm handle on economics and how to handle their personal finances.

To date, the MCEE’s training has reached teachers in 540 public and private schools, who attest they feel more comfortable teaching economics to their classes thanks to the training, said Alexander.

Forum speaker Gov. Haley Barbour reported that every school district on the Coast is open again, with many students meeting in trailers or temporary buildings. More than 90% of children displaced by the hurricane are back in the school districts they attended before the storm.

“If anyone has any questions about Mississippi rebuilding, there’s your answer,” said Barbour.

The MCEE’s November 3 forum focused on healthcare and the economy with addresses by Clyde Dease of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, Amy Arrington of the Mississippi Hospital Association and Dr. Robert Arnot, an NBC special foreign correspondent known as “Dr. Bob.”

Fighting obesity

Dease announced that the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation (LPRVF) is a partner in a new program to fight obesity in grades K-12 in Pearl River County schools, affecting 8,600 children. The LPRVF, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the county school districts and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi are funding $1.1 million in grants for the Healthy Lifestyles program, which educates teachers and their students about healthy eating, puts healthy choices in the school lunch program to cut down on junk food, and provides walking trails, health screenings and methods to encourage a healthy lifestyle. The hope is that learning to make healthy choices early on in life will yield healthy adults.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity with 27% of the population obese, and ranks second in diabetes per capita. Obesity can lead to Type II diabetes, a disease often associated with older people that is occurring at an alarming rate to people in their 20s and 30s. The disease is very expensive to treat because of complications that come later in life, and without change, “the economic impact will be breathtaking,” said Barbour, who commended the groups for adopting the programs.

A prominent partner

Another impact on Mississippi’s healthcare economy is a sector whose contributions are often overlooked — Mississippi’s 115 hospitals. Arrington, vice president of governmental relations for the MHA, revealed results of a study commissioned by MHA to break down the economic impact of Mississippi hospitals on jobs, income, purchases and retail sales.

The study revealed some remarkable numbers. Mississippi hospitals employ nearly 60,000 full-time workers, and create more than 53,000 additional jobs for people who provide goods and services and construction to these hospitals.

The hospitals generate $4 billion in total earnings every year and $2.1 billion in retail sales in their communities. These hospitals spend $5.4 billion on operating costs and capital expenditures, and the total impact of sales on the state’s economy due to these purchases is $10.1 billion.

Arrington pointed out that hospitals are recruiting healthcare workers at a time when many industries are cutting back and using overseas labor. What’s more, healthcare employees are highly trained, skilled workers.

Unfortunately, just under 50% of hospitals reported a loss. In small communities, 75% to 80% of reimbursement comes from Medicare and Medicaid. In large communities, it’s approximately 60%, said Arrington.

When the local hospital suffers, so does the community,” she said.

Dr. Bob

Arnot regaled the crowd with a few of his life-and-death experiences in Iraq and most recently in Afghanistan, including one tale about an American soldier who threw his body over a live grenade to save the lives of children playing near by. Although Arnot is on the job covering the war for NBC, he is often called on to doctor patients on the front lines.

Watching from afar, Arnot said he has been impressed with the way Mississippi has handled the aftermath of Katrina. Arnot met Barbour on a visit to the state last year, and he told the crowd he knew then that “this is a great leader looking for a great mission.”

“We’ve all witnessed the tremendous heroism of this state,” he said. “I believe this is going to be one of America’s great success stories.”

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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