Schools at top of state’s ‘to-do’ list for development

Published 12:08 am Sunday, January 22, 2012

During the excitement of the new Legislature being seated and statewide officials being sworn in, Mississippians may not have noticed that a new “blueprint” for the state’s development was also launched.

As The Clarion-Ledger reported on Jan. 6, the Mississippi Economic Council gave newly elected officeholders a list of public policy recommendations that would help recruit more businesses, improve teacher quality and increase the amount of funding available to entrepreneurs.

The MEC, as the state’s chamber of commerce, released the Blueprint Mississippi report, a set of policy recommendations for lawmakers and other state officials.

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Incoming Gov. Phil Bryant and new Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, pledged support for the plan. It has also received plaudits from public officials, business and education groups across the state, and that’s for a reason.

The plan was developed “from the bottom up,” as a strategic plan for the state using the expertise of local and state officials as well as enlisting local communities to give their input into its formulation. …

… Across the state, local people, academics, politicians, business leaders and policy makers see education as the top priority for the state to progress. It’s a long-term commitment that requires action now.

Education and jobs are a partnership that works hand-in-hand with economic development in Mississippi, as noted in the article by Claiborne Barksdale, chief executive officer of the Barksdale Reading Institute in Oxford and chair of Blueprint’s Educational Achievement sector.

As Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds, who led the Blueprint planning effort, said: “If you want to improve the economy in this state, then the first thing you also have to do is improve education.”

Blueprint calls for innovative improvements, but it’s not a “giveaway,” also requiring accountability …

Blueprint also addresses, through the work of its Economic Competitiveness Council, efforts to increase skills-based education and to promote opportunities for those students who do not wish to seek a degree, thereby improving our ability to meet the needs of a growing middle-skill workforce, which provides a real base of opportunity for the future of the state. …

Lt. Gov. Reeves has said he expects a number of bills will be drafted using Blueprint.

Other Blueprint goals include promoting health care and diversity, improving the state’s infrastructure, bettering coordination among public and private leaders, and making more money available for business expansion.

But central to the plan is upgrading Mississippi’s “human capital.” …