By Savannah Day
Mississippi Capitol Press Corps
The 2018 legislative session looks quite hopeful to Governor Phil Bryant and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, but some Mississippi Democrats feel differently.
In the same week of Gov. Bryant’s annual State-of-the-State address, Speaker Gunn gave an exclusive interview with University of Mississippi Capitol Press Corps reporters. The conservative leaders offered optimistic rhetoric about education policy and the economy.
Gunn, who prides himself on being the first Republican Speaker in Mississippi in 136 years, highlighted the coming of big startup company Continental Tire, located outside his hometown, Clinton, calling it the ‘latest, greatest job creator.’
“There will be people flocking to work,” Gunn said.
Bryant also discussed Continental Tire in his State-of-the-State address, emphasizing its arrival bringing national recognition and 2,500 jobs, making Mississippi “the most job-friendly state in America,” he said.
But Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood isn’t buying it.
“It’s going to be those small businesses that are going to make Mississippi grow 20 years from now,” Hood said. “That’ll be our future, not some big manufacturing outfit from Germany.”
However, an issue both aisles seem to acknowledge is the importance of education. Lawmakers are excited to push an education funding overhaul through in the next few weeks.
“The Mississippi Adequate Education Program does not work,” Gunn said. “It’s not a party thing. It is just a system that doesn’t work, and I think everybody needs to embrace that reality, be they Republican or Democrat.”
Bryant said: “Most of us want more than just an adequate education system in Mississippi. We want a great one.”
Gunn laid out the specifics of the new funding bill in the Capitol Press Corps interview.
“What we’re going for is something that everybody can understand – every parent, every student, every superintendent, anybody,” Gunn said. “It’s just simple multiplication.”
The new formula starts with a base cost of $4,800 per student plus additional funds for characteristics of the student body, such as gifted students, special education students, and rural areas.
But funding reform is only one education policy tool that Republicans are looking forward to utilizing this session. These leaders have continuously accentuated the increased graduation rate, accrediting it to the implementation of heavier elementary school reading tests, appointed superintendents, and charter schools. All are details that have been repeatedly touted in speeches and interviews with Gunn and Bryant, as well as Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
“I continue to believe parents should have the freedom to use their tax dollars to send their child to the school of their choice, not one decided by the government,” Bryant said.
On the other hand, Hood said he’s “not convinced” of the benefit of charter schools and that it’s one of “a bunch of gimmicks to divert people’s attention away from the fact that we’ve got to properly fund education.”
“Pay those teachers enough that you attract teachers who are capable of doing better than what we’re doing now,” Hood said. “We’re not paying our teachers enough.”
But funding isn’t always the answer, Gunn said. “You know where the highest paying
teacher salaries are? Alaska. Because no one wants to go there.”
Brain drain has also become a controversial topic among legislators. In the official Democratic Party response to Gov. Bryant’s State-of-the-State Address, Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford discussed brain drain saying “our unemployment rate is still one of the highest in the nation, and even worse for our 20-24-year-olds at 14.3 percent, which is why we are losing them to Atlanta and Nashville.”
Speaker Gunn believes brain drain statistics are drawing “improper conclusions” and needed to be “weighed out.”
Savannah Day, 20, is a University of Mississippi sophomore pursuing a double degree in public policy leadership and broadcast journalism. Her minor is intelligence and security studies. She grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but was raised an Ole Miss Rebel. Day is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Tri Delta sorority, the Associated Student Body Legislative Council, and Lambda Sigma Honors Society. In Day’s free time, she enjoys hot yoga classes and walking her lab, Scarlett. She hopes to pursue a career in Washington, D.C. in political reporting.