Education essential to Mississippi’s economic growth

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Published: July 25,2005

Momentum Mississippi and other economic development programs are essential for Mississippi being competitive with other states in attracting jobs. I ask Gov. Haley Barber and the Mississippi Legislature to realize that the education of our youth and young adults is even more important than developmental programs to our economic future.

I am not talking about a liberal arts education for every Mississippian, though that would be a lofty goal. I am talking about technical skills training and academic programs that reach a larger number of our youth and young adults.

Far too many of our young people fail to receive a high school education, and many are graduating who are not functionally literate and who have limited technical skills. It is troubling to hear a potential gubernatorial candidate from Texas say that Texas is in a race to the bottom with Mississippi to see how many of its students fail to graduate from high school.

There is a direct correlation between education and earning potential and citizens who make more money, buy more goods and services, and pay more sales and income tax. Our economy cannot grow at the rates of other states without a significant effort to bring all of its residents into the economic prosperity. More than 90% of the children in Mississippi depend on public education.

Quality of life is key

Surveys show that that life quality issues, such as quality of public schools, are a bigger factor in choosing location for business ventures than are economic incentives or corporate tax structures. Mississippi already has one of the lowest (5%) corporate tax structures in the Southeast (compare ours to Louisiana’s 8% rate).

Louisiana is making a greater commitment to education than Mississippi. It spends more money per pupil in grades K-12 and every child in Louisiana can attend a state university tuition-free if they achieve an adequate score on the ACT and maintain good grades in college.

What a wonderful incentive for kids who thought college was beyond their financial grasp!

Much is written about the percentage of our state budget that is spent on education. We do spend a large percentage of our general fund budget on education. However, the general budget represents only a portion of our state’s revenues. Our commitment to education in terms of total revenue is less than it was 50 years ago.

Think of the commitment and expense to our state in the 1940s when Gov. Paul Johnson Sr. signed a bill that provided free textbooks to Mississippi’s school children. Prior to that historic legislation, many kids attended school without the benefit of having textbooks because their parents could not afford to buy them.

Many of the school buildings that our kids attend today were built in the 1950s during a concerted effort by our state to upgrade our schools. Our commitment to education in the mid-century contributed to our movement from an agricultural economy to one that included industry and other businesses.

Creativity and innovation

How often do we hear that throwing more money at the problem is not the solution? I agree. However, the problems we have in education cannot be solved without spending more money and without being more creative in our efforts to educate children.

Innovative programs like the Barksdale Reading Institute are the keys to reaching larger numbers of our state’s children. (How could we reject Mr. Barksdale’s generous offer of $50 million to our kids?)

Food for thought

Here are a few thoughts for discussion:

• Bureaucracy is hurting our educators’ efforts. It does not take money to eliminate some of the bureaucracy that encroaches on teachers’ and administrators’ time.

• The administrative cost has increased exponentially in the last few decades. State law could limit the percentage of a district’s total budget that could be spent on administration cost. The administrators’ salaries could be limited by a salary formula that has a direct relationship with salaries paid to teachers.

• This insane and excessive standardized testing has to stop. It is expensive, counter-productive and makes failures out of our children when they are still young, curious and eager to learn and to please their teachers.

• Rather than consolidating more schools, maybe we should move to smaller community-based schools and give more local control to teachers and parents.

Let’s get the dialog going about improving our schools and make a serious financial commitment to the children of Mississippi.

Archie King, LPC, is a human resources consultant who lives in Madison. His column appears from time to time in the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at aking4@jam.rr.net.

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