Promises and dreams in Mississippi — and reality

Published 5:56 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The promise to teachers — become nationally certified as one of the best teachers in the nation and the state will pay you an additional $6,000 a year.

The promise to students — stay in school and get your high school diploma and you will be able to get a better job than if you drop out. Graduate from college and go on to even greater heights.

The promise to taxpayers — let the state save some money, put it away for a rainy day, and then we will be able to keep our promises to educate your children and meet the state’s most essential obligations of caring for its citizens.

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The dream — Mississippi has become a leader among states with highly educated citizens and well-paying jobs and a well-run government that is able to meet its most essential obligations, especially of education, even in hard times because of the frugality and saving ways the state both preaches and practices.

The reality — a governor who believes putting and keeping people in prison is more important than education, so much so that he will break the state’s promises to teachers and students.

The reality — a rainy-day fund that is hoarded so a politically ambitious governor can carry his dream of power beyond the state’s borders and convince voters elsewhere, who have not been damaged by the reality of his policies, that he did so well as a state governor that his state didn’t even have to spend its rainy-day fund in a time of great economic crisis that ravaged the budgets other states in the nation.

The reality — a population better educated to continue in the share-cropping agriculture of a time that the state’s populace thought it had left behind, and a populace likely to remain poorly educated as administrators at all levels of education are forced to reduce the number of instructors and courses to educate students and number of fields of endeavor for students to pursue because of a lack of funds.

The reality — better education and better jobs can be found in other states even in today’s economy, especially by Mississippi’s best and brightest, those who are needed to lead the state to a better tomorrow but who must leave Mississippi to receive a really good education and to follow their dreams.

The reality — Mississippi falls further and further behind the rest of nation in the quality of education it provides its students. As a result, its work force becomes less and less able to meet the demands of modern business and manufacturing. More and more of its population turns to crime and the government dole to survive, thus increasing the demand for prison cells and government services, all supported by a tax base that is steadily shrinking as better-paying jobs and the state’s brightest citizens go elsewhere.

What might have been — The unfortunate part of this scenario is that the dream could become the reality for our future, if the governor was more interested in keeping promises to educators and students than in locking up people and throwing away the key.

The realities described here are a good description of our past, especially what was occurring in Mississippi before William Winter was elected governor in 1980 and made education truly a priority of state government. He had a dream of better-educated Mississippians able to compete with citizens from any other state in the nation and any other country in the world.

Winter grew up in a Mississippi before World War II when the state’s economy was fueled by share cropping and he knew when he became governor, either instinctively or from his contacts outside of the state, that modern economies are based on education, an education that provides students with the intellectual tools they need to grow and succeed.

Today, we have a governor who dreams mostly of his possible political future and a supporting lieutenant governor who oversees the Senate and dreams mostly of becoming governor. Both men, who have actively worked to block moves to restore at least some funding to education, appear more interested in their personal futures than in the futures of Mississippi’s children.

We need to return to electing governors who dream of improving Mississippi and helping its citizens succeed in the economy of today and especially the economy of the future, governors who dream of advancing the desire of Mississippians for the state to become a leader among states in education and economic progress, and who do not dream mostly of ways to enhance their personal ambitions.