The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) has a long history of support and advocacy for education. All levels of education in Mississippi continue to be a top issue with the membership of this business and professional organization.
“Without a strong educational foundation, we cannot provide the quality workforce needed to attract the middle-skill and higher-skill jobs that are coming to our state and that are the real answer for providing a better quality of life and long-term economic future,” said MEC executive director Blake Wilson. “The good news is that we are continuing to improve in this area. Recent economic development announcements are indicative of the increasing confidence in Mississippi’s focus on middle-skill and higher-skill workforce opportunities.”
One of the best-known and longest-running MEC education programs is the Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition Program (STAR) , which has honored high school students and teachers for more than 45 years. All accredited public, private and parochial high schools are invited to participate as a way of encouraging scholastic achievement. Students making the highest scores on the American College Test are chosen to receive this honor. Each top performing student nominates his or her own STAR teacher to be recognized with the student.
This year, 248 STAR students and teachers were recognized at the Education Celebration held during the MEC Annual meeting in April. The top 20 students statewide are honored each year as All-Star Students. “About 15 years ago, the Kelly Gene Cook, Sr. Charitable Foundation stepped forward to provide significant scholarships to the top three students and other stipends to the remaining top 20 of this All-Star group,” Wilson said. “The foundation provides full funding for these scholarships, which was a significant boost to the program, which prior to the foundations’ s involvement had been a recognition program.”
In 2012, a total of $74,250 scholarships and awards were presented with the top All-Star Student receiving $24,000, the first runner up received $20,000 and the second runner up received $16,000. The remaining 17 students received $500 each. The STAR teachers for the top three students received an award of $500 each, and the remaining 17 teachers received an award of $250 each. Since 1997, the Kelly Gene Cook, Sr. Charitable Foundation has given $11.18 million in scholarships and awards.
In 2000, the Public Education Forum of Mississippi converged its activities with MEC to become the education conscience of the Mississippi Economic Council. “It is an affiliate organization which has historically done a combination of policy research as well as programmatic work,” Wilson said. “In the area of policy, it is through the work of this forum that MEC has found its positions on full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Act, taking steps toward approaching early childhood education in Mississippi and continuing to improve accountability in our schools.”
Wilson says the Public Education Forum also presents the now well-known Mississippi Scholars Program, recognizing those students who take a more rigorous course of study than the conventional curriculum. “This program is now offered in 145 state high schools and is a real boost in providing students with a better understanding of career options that are available to those who reach higher and work harder,” he added. “The program uses local business volunteers to make presentations about rigor and relevance. This program gives students the foundation they need to succeed in a technical school, community college, university, military or industry.”
More than 19,000 students statewide have graduated as a Mississippi Scholar since the program began in 2003, and local communities have raised more than $500,000 for scholarships for these students.
Over the years, the Public Education Forum partnered with the Mississippi Department of Education and State Farm Insurance to present the ON THE BUS dropout-prevention program and raised well over $1 million in private sector dollars to help Mississippi become the first state to have an internet wired computer in every classroom in a public-private partnership effort spearheaded by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.
A changing trend supported by the MEC is that workforce development — as noted in the Blueprint Mississippi study — has become a key component for high school study. “It is vital in providing a strong career path forward for students and assuring a prepared workforce, as well,” Wilson said.
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