Meridian Star

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February 13, 2013

MEC: Education, health care key

MERIDIAN —     State leaders say better health care and education are two of the most important areas to bring more and better jobs to Mississippi.

    Those needs are a part of the Mississippi Economic Council's blueprint for the state, according to Blake Wilson, president and CEO of MEC.

    MEC, which is not a government agency, works to improve the business climate in Mississippi. Wilson, along with other MEC officials were in Meridian on Tuesday as part of its Insight Tour throughout the state.

    "If we are going to bring higher skilled jobs to our state, we have to get over this terrible challenge that we face — improving our education system," Wilson said. "Folks we can do it with a sustainable outcome."

    Wilson cautioned the audience that while many of them may have children in private schools, they cannot ignore the needs of the public school system.

    "The whole community goes down if the public schools aren't strong," Wilson said. "We can't walk away as business leaders."

    In a electronic message from Gov. Phil Bryant, the governor said 2,700 jobs have been created in Mississippi this year.

    "The economy is strong and growing here in Mississippi because of the assistance of the MEC and its board of directors," Bryant said.

    The state's education system is critical to economic development, Bryant said, noting that the state should end social promoting for students who are not ready to enter the next grade level. He also favors merit pay for teachers.

    "Pay our best teachers to stay in the classrooms and teach those children how to learn," Bryant said.

    In addition, the governor wants to provide full scholarships for students who make a certain score on the ACT test and who want to become teachers. They would be expected to teach in Mississippi for at least five years after graduation.

    The push for early childhood education is on, according to Wilson, who touted the benefits of Mississippi Building Blocks, a program designed to be used in licensed child care centers to improve the quality of care that the centers provide.

    Mississippi Building Blocks provides on-site, classroom mentors, classroom materials, parent education and business consulting. The program is to make sure that children are prepared to enter kindergarten and the first grade.

    Other components of Bryant's education works proposal are school choice, which he defines as workable charter school legislation, opportunity scholarships which would provide tax credits to encourage private funds to be donated to send children from poor performing schools to private schools, and open enrollment, which would allow children from poor performing schools to move to other schools if space is available.

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