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On this day in 2003

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Feb. 28, 2003

Ernest Avants in his 1967 arrest photograph Credit: House Un-American Activities Committee/LSU Cold Case Project

A U.S. District Court jury in Jackson, Mississippi, convicted Ernest Avants of murder — the first federal murder charges connected to the pursuit of unpunished killings from the civil rights era. 

Avants received a life sentence for joining other Klansmen in killing an African-American handyman, Ben Chester White, near Natchez, Mississippi. The Klansmen had hoped to lure Martin Luther King Jr., who was taking part in a march in Mississippi, to the area by killing White. The plot failed. 

White is among the 40 martyrs listed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

The post On this day in 2003 appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Mississippi Medicaid expansion bill moves forward in GOP-led House over governor’s opposition

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The state’s Republican-led House is expected to vote on Mississippi Medicaid expansion as soon as Wednesday after a committee unanimously approved it Tuesday.

House Bill 1725, authored by Republican House Speaker Jason White and Medicaid Chairwoman Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, has bipartisan support in the House, even as the state’s Republican governor continues to oppose the policy.

The morning after Gov. Tate Reeves didn’t mention health care or Medicaid expansion once during his State of the State address, he posted on Twitter “Count me amongst those ‘extreme MAGA Republicans’ who think Government should not run health care.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, McGee explained to committee members that Mississippi during the first two years of expansion would receive an extra $600 million in federal money for Medicaid. She said that amount would cover the state’s share of expansion for four years. After that, under the House plan, hospitals and managed care organizations would pay more taxes to cover the state’s 10% match, with federal funds covering 90% of expansion costs.

“You could almost look at it like the federal government is giving us a free pilot program, to run for four years,” McGee said during the committee meeting. McGee said hospitals and MCOs would start paying the increased tax in the first year and the state could bank that money, perhaps in a health fund.

The bill, which expands Medicaid eligibility to adults without dependents between the ages of 19 and 65, has a built-in repealer, meaning it would automatically end after four years if lawmakers chose not to renew it.

Currently, low-income, adult Mississippians fall into the “coverage gap,” which experts believe is a leading cause of Mississippi’s poor public health metrics – such as leading the nation in preventable deaths, infant and maternal mortality, and lowest life expectancy. Mississippi remains one of only 10 states not to expand Medicaid. Expansion would provide health care to about 200,000 to 250,000 Mississippians, experts said.

The bill would expand Medicaid income eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would be an annual household income up to about $43,000.

The House bill has some strict limitations. It would not cover those who are offered health insurance from their employer — even if they couldn’t afford the sometimes very expensive deductibles — and would make those who drop coverage even from the Affordable Care Act exchange wait 12 months before being eligible.

“If it doesn’t work out, if we decide that our health outcomes have not improved, if it costs too much for the state, if for any reason we do not believe that it is doing the things that we want it to do, the program will simply repeal in 2029,” McGee said.

The bill passed committee the day after it was assigned. But that’s after 10 years of debate and GOP leaders in the poorest, unhealthiest of states eschewing “Obamacare” Medicaid expansion. Reeves and his Republican predecessor, Phil Bryant, likened the state-federal health coverage to welfare and voiced opposition to taking more federal tax dollars from it, even as Mississippi remains one of the most federal funding reliant states in the nation.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate are moving at their own pace.

McGee and Blackwell say the House and Senate will be working together, but they haven’t met yet. Their expansion bills are quite different – and coming to an agreement would involve heavy concessions from one or both sides. 

“They can rush it all they want on their side,” Medicaid Chairman Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, said Tuesday. “We’ve got our own pace. So they can pass it today and send it over tomorrow. It’s going to sit in my committee until we get ours in.”

While both bills are expected to have a work requirement, the House bill’s work requirement is only a “best-case scenario.” The bill has a “Section 2” provision that states that if the waiver necessary for federal Medicaid authorities to allow a Mississippi work requirement is not granted by Sept. 30, 2024, Medicaid would still be fully expanded to people up to 138% of the federal poverty level. 

But the Senate bill, which as of right now is only a skeletal bill bringing forth Medicaid code sections to start, would according to Blackwell be entirely contingent on the federal government approving a waiver for a work requirement.

During the Biden administration, Centers for Medicaid Services has rescinded work requirement waivers previously granted under the Trump administration, and has not approved new ones. It is unlikely the administration would grant Mississippi’s 1115 waiver – which Blackwell says is a must for him.

“If no work requirements, no expansion,” Blackwell said about the bill he calls “expansion light.”

McGee said she hopes the House doesn’t back down on its provision to expand Medicaid even if the Biden administration doesn’t grant the waiver. 

“I think that Section 2 provides an opportunity for us to still get this across the finish line if for some reason CMS does not approve the work requirement,” McGee said. “I think that we still want to help working Mississippians find a way to have health insurance. I would really hope we would leave Section 2 in the bill as a backstop in case we cannot get the waiver done, we still have an opportunity to provide the program and not delay another year in making this happen.”

The Senate Medicaid Committee is still working on language and Blackwell said it “will have something next week,” after which he said Senate leaders will sit down with the House and “see where the differences lie.”

Blackwell, who said he didn’t necessarily expect to author an expansion bill this session, is still adamantly opposed to full Medicaid expansion — which he calls “socialized medicine” and “welfare” — without work requirements and a private insurance option.

Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who oversees the Senate, said he would also like to see a work requirement in any expansion bill, as well as a premiums payment plan.

“When I get a plan that covers working people,” Hosemann said, “I would like for them to make some contribution to their health care,” he said. “I think that’s important, I think that’s self dignity, you become part of the system when you’re paying some part of it.”

Blackwell has said he would not author a bill that allowed expansion without a work requirement and a premiums plan. At that point, he says, expansion becomes “palatable” — especially when thinking about the labor force participation rate.

“It’s becoming a bigger need when you take a look at the hospital situation which was really highlighted during COVID,” Blackwell said. “With what we’re doing from an economic development standpoint, bringing in these large development projects, we need to have a healthy workforce. So from that standpoint, I can tolerate it.”

Blackwell said he believes that with a work requirement, expansion would have the support it needs in the Senate to be veto-proof. That is, the Senate could muster a two-thirds vote to override a Reeves veto.

House Democratic Leader Robert Johnson III, said Tuesday morning at a press conference that Democrats are not in favor of a work requirement, as it would delay things and likely not be approved by federal authorities. But Johnson said House Democrats would accept a work requirement in a bill if it was the only way Medicaid expansion could pass. That was evident Tuesday as no Democrats offered amendments in committee and all voted to move the bill forward.

“The vast majority of people are already working or are not able to do so,” Johnson said. “Far fewer people just choose not to work than our Republican colleagues would have you believe.”

Johnson has also authored House Bill 38, which would create a commission to run Medicaid and take it out from under the governor. He said he knows it’s not likely to pass.

“People’s health care should not be politicized,” Johnson said. “If we had a commission running it 10 years ago, we would already have expansion … I hope it at least starts a conversation about taking the politics out of health care.”

The post Mississippi Medicaid expansion bill moves forward in GOP-led House over governor’s opposition appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Senate bill to close most of Parchman hits snag over cost, logistics

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A proposal to close most of Mississippi’s oldest and most infamous prison faced its first hurdle Tuesday afternoon in a state Senate committee where a majority of members decided to hold off voting on the bill until they receive better cost estimates. 

The Senate Corrections Committee discussed Senate Bill 2353, which proposes a four-year process to phase down the use of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman by moving incarcerated people, staff and programs to other prisons in the state. 

Committee chair and bill author Juan Barnett said a phasedown would be a better use of taxpayer money and a chance to reimagine the state’s approach to incarceration. 

Mississippi Sen. Juan Barnett, whose father was shot and killed, is working to shorten the sentences of many Mississippi inmates. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“Parchman prison, a name that resonates with both notoriety and despair, has stood for decades as a symbol of systematic failures within our criminal justice system,” said Barnett, a Democrat from Heidelberg, before discussion began. 

“We cannot allow a facility to operate under conditions that are antithetical to the principles of fairness.”

Years of neglect and funding have led to deteriorating infrastructure and decrepit conditions at Parchman and fed into the violence and deaths that erupted at Unit 29 and at other state prison facilities, a 2020 investigation by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica found. 

The U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into Parchman and three other prisons several months later, and by 2022, the DOJ released a report detailing conditions that violate the Constitution.

Ted Booth, executive director of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, said the bill is in line with PEER’s recommendation to reduce operations at Parchman, which would help maintain a secure environment. 

Barnett gave a rough estimate of about $100 million over four years to phase down Parchman. In response to committee member questions, he said that cost wouldn’t include spending on the facilities that would remain on site. 

A major part of the phase down bill would involve the state purchasing the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility to house Parchman’s inmates. The private is located less than 10 miles away in Tutwiler and is run by CoreCivic. 

Through that purchase, Barnett said the staff at Parchman would be able to remain state employees with benefits, which would help keep jobs in the Delta. Moving Parchman staff over to Tallahatchie Correctional could also help close vacancies at both prisons and help reach full staffing, he said. 

Sen. Joey Fillingnane, R-Sumrall, asked whether there is any kind of binding memorandum of understanding or contract with the owner of Tallahatchie Correctional. Barnett said there is not, and added that the Appropriations Committee would not pass the bill if the financial situation is not figured out. 

“We’re just supposed to trust that it’s all going to work out in a sweet by-and-by and send it on down to Appropriations and hope that they take care of all of our miscues?” Fillingane asked. 

Instead of spending $100 million to phase down Parchman, that money could be used to update the building, Fillingane said, but Barnett pointed to a similar situation going on in Alabama, which is on the hook for $1 billion to build a new prison because the DOJ found its current ones are unconstitutional.

Fillingane also asked about the conditions at Tallahatchie Correctional, which has had similar problems with violence like Parchman. He wanted to know whether action has been taken to address those problems, to which Barnett replied yes. 

After an hour of discussion, a majority of the committee voted to lay the bill on the table with the ability for Barnett to bring it up at a later time. He said he will gather more financial information for the committee to review. 

If it passes the Corrections Committee, SB 2353 will also need approval from the Senate’s Appropriations Committee before the entire Senate chamber could vote on it. 

The post Senate bill to close most of Parchman hits snag over cost, logistics appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Former Gov. Phil Bryant boasted of Prevacus stock offer at Christmas party, court filing alleges

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Former Gov. Phil Bryant’s intent to accept stock in a pharmaceutical company that had received hundreds of thousands of federal funds from the welfare agency he controlled was a topic of conversation at his final Christmas party at the Governor’s Mansion, a recent court filing alleges.

Nancy New, the nonprofit operator pegged as a ringleader of the ever-unfolding Mississippi welfare scandal, has again alleged through new details in a court filing that Bryant was behind some of the spending that officials have called the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history.

Mississippi Department of Human Services’ current civil complaint — the state government’s legal effort to recoup misspent welfare funds — accuses New of meeting with Bryant’s appointed welfare director at former NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s house in early 2019 to discuss a “substantial stock investment” in the pharmaceutical startup. 

New began funneling grant funds through her nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center to the drug company, called Prevacus, in the following weeks. State prosecutors originally accused New in 2020 following a state auditor’s investigation of embezzling welfare money in order to make personal investments in Prevacus. In 2022, she instead pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of wire fraud related to the payments, since Prevacus was “known to be ineligible to receive such public grant funds.”

But in her Monday filing, New states that “the only ‘substantial stock investment in Prevacus’ that I am aware of is the one Governor Bryant told me about during a Christmas party at the Mansion in 2019.” 

Around the time of the party, Prevacus founder Jake Vanlandingham had been talking to the governor about “bring(ing) you onboard with ownership,” according to texts Mississippi Today first published in a 2022 investigation “The Backchannel.”

“The Governor had been funding Prevacus through MDHS and MCEC for about a year,” New’s latest filing states, “so it was not unusual for Brett, or Jake, or Prevacus to come up in conversations with the Governor. At the Christmas party, Jake’s name came up. Governor Bryant got excited and told me that Jake had offered him ‘half the company,’ which I understood to mean a substantial amount of stock, but the Governor said he was going to have to wait until he was out of office to accept.”

Bryant’s alleged involvement in the scandal is important to New’s defense, which relies in part on the fact that as a contractor of the agency, her nonprofit was acting in accordance with the state’s directives.

Vanlandingham first reached out to New in late 2018 shortly after meeting with Bryant about locating a drug manufacturing operation in the state. By this point, New’s nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center had been receiving tens of millions of federal grant funds from Mississippi Department of Human Services, an agency under the purview of the governor’s office.

New had already used some of the funds starting in 2017 to fund the construction of a volleyball stadium at University of Southern Mississippi — another project promoted by Favre and directed by Bryant, according to New. When New and Favre initially hit a snag pushing the needed funding to the volleyball stadium, for example, “Governor Bryant called me and said he liked the volleyball project and wanted me to provide the additional funds that Brett needed,” New’s filing this week reads.

Bryant has denied directing welfare spending on either project or agreeing to accept stock in the drug company. Citing a gag order in the state’s civil case, Bryant’s attorney declined to comment to Mississippi Today for this story. The former governor is not facing civil or criminal charges.

On the call in late 2018, Vanlandingham told New that “he, Brett Favre and Governor Bryant were working together to fund a concussion drug company called Prevacus. Jake knew that Governor Bryant, (then-MDHS director) John Davis and I had funded the volleyball facility/wellness center at USM through MDHS and MCEC,” the filing reads.

Prevacus was looking for $750,000 to complete the first phase of drug trials, New said, plus $1 million more down the road. New said she agreed to relay the message to Davis, Bryant’s appointed welfare director. New alleged that Davis then spoke to Bryant and, after the conversation, agreed to meet with Vanlandingham.

Davis’ calendar entry for the meeting, first obtained by Mississippi Today in 2020, recorded that, “This meeting was requested by Brett Favre and the Governor to discuss the Educational Research Program that addresses brain injury caused by concussions. They also want to discuss the new facility at USM.”

New, Davis and his close associate, former WWE wrestler Ted “Teddy” DiBiase Jr., traveled to Favre’s home outside of Hattiesburg on a stormy day in early January of 2019.

“I understood the purpose of the meeting was for John to hear about Prevacus, so he could decide whether MDHS should provide funding. I later learned the decision to fund Prevacus through MDHS had already been made,” New’s latest filing states. “After the meeting, I asked John why he had committed so much funding so quickly. John said he had spoken with Governor Bryant and the Governor wanted Prevacus funded. John said the Governor was ‘all about this happening.’”

New’s filing also alleges Bryant instructed Davis to fund the volleyball stadium project. The federal government prohibits states from using welfare funds on brick-and-mortar, so the welfare agency began creating expensive subleases that they said would allow them to conduct programming at various properties, but more importantly, would allow for them to conduct high-dollar renovations or builds. The volleyball project was not the first time this idea was raised.

“Governor and Mrs. Bryant wanted a ‘palliative care’ center built in Jackson, Mississippi, so MDHS created a lease structure to use grant funds to pay for construction,” New’s filing reads.

Forensic auditors found that this lease was never executed, but it appears the lease arrangement was utilized later for the USM facility.

Davis has not commented publicly about the circumstances surrounding Prevacus and the volleyball stadium projects. While Davis pleaded guilty in 2022 to two federal charges and 18 state counts of fraud or conspiracy related to the scandal, each count pertained to payments made to benefit former professional wrestlers Teddy DiBiase and his younger brother Brett DiBiase — not regarding the Prevacus or volleyball projects. Davis has not been sentenced. 

Following the January 2019 meeting, Vanlandingham thanked Bryant and said that he was excited to be working with the agency and nonprofit directors. Once New began sending payments to Prevacus, Favre briefed Bryant, texting the governor, “We couldn’t be more happy about the funding from the State of MS.”

Bryant continued to consult with Vanlandingham and Favre about advancing Prevacus’ development through 2019 and after leaving office, at which point he promised to “get on it hard.”

New’s account that Bryant opted to wait until he left office to accept a company package in Prevacus is consistent with his own text messages. After Vanlandingham offered to bring Bryant on with ownership in early December of 2019, Bryant responded, “Cannot till January 15th,” Bryant wrote, referring to his first day out of office. 

“But would love to talk then,” Bryant added. “This is the type of thing I love to be a part of. Something that save lives…”

On Jan. 16, 2020, Vanlandingham texted Bryant, “Now that you’re unemployed I’d like to give you a company package for all your help,” to which Bryant responded, “Sounds good.”

Bryant told Mississippi Today in an April 2022 interview that he ended his business relationship with Prevacus on his own accord before the initial arrests. But his texts show he kept discussing when and where to meet with Vanlandingham all the way up until the day before the arrests and only discontinued the conversations after reading Prevacus’ name in the 2020 indictments. 

Since her arrest in 2020, New has mostly refrained from commenting publicly on the case or offering her side of the story, with the exception of material that appears in documents gathered through discovery. The personal accounts in New’s latest filing may reflect what she is prepared to offer in upcoming depositions or trials — such as the exchanges she witnessed that may not appear in written communication.

New has not been sentenced and is a cooperating witness in the ongoing federal criminal investigation. 

The post Former Gov. Phil Bryant boasted of Prevacus stock offer at Christmas party, court filing alleges appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Transcript: Gov. Tate Reeves’ 2024 State of the State address

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Gov. Tate Reeves, a second-term Republican, delivered his annual State of the State address on Feb. 26, 2024.

Below is the transcript of Reeves’ speech, which aired live on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Editor’s note: This transcript was submitted by Reeves’ staff and has not been edited or formatted to match Mississippi Today’s style.


Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Hosemann and Speaker White.
 
To the members of the legislature and other elected officials – thank you. Thank you for what you do every single day to make Mississippi an even better place to live, to work, and to raise a family. Together, over the last four years, we’ve accomplished mission after mission for our state. And I have no doubt that by continuing to work together, Mississippi’s best days are in front of us.
 
I would also like to thank the person who has been at the center of my life for over 23 years, my wonderful wife and our state’s amazing first lady, Elee. Elee has been a source of strength and inspiration for me over the years and especially during my time as governor. She is a terrific mom, an excellent first lady, and a tremendous ambassador for our state. I’m lucky to have her in my life every single day, and I thank God that she is.
 
Before I go any further, it is with a heavy heart that I recognize the honorable service and tremendous sacrifice of Chief Warrant Officer Zemek and Chief Warrant Officer Abbott. Please join me in a moment of silence and prayer for their many friends and family.
 
Thank you. This tragic accident is yet another reminder that the freedoms we hold dear are not free. And a huge thank you to all of our brave men and women in uniform that champion freedom both domestically and abroad.
 
I will warn you this is going to be a boring speech.
 
It’s got no hot buttons, virtually no conflict, no drama.
 
What I’m about to do tonight is to go over a game plan. It’s not going to excite the newspaper reporters. It’s probably not going to end up in anybody’s campaign ads. But it is going to make a difference for Mississippi and for our fellow Mississippians.
 
We have just completed a heated campaign year in our state.
 
We know that some of you support the policies championed by Joe Biden.
 
We know that I am what Biden calls an extremist MAGA Republican.
 
And maybe over the next few weeks, you may be asked to pick which side you are on.
 
But not by me. And not tonight.
 
I am not going to focus on our differences. After 2023, we all know what they are.
 
I am here tonight instead to challenge you as a Legislature to waste no time on the things that divide us, and instead spend your energy this year on things that unite us.
 
Our state has many challenges. We also have many opportunities. In fact, we have more opportunities than we have ever had before. The task in front of us is whether we can roll up our sleeves and meet these challenges before these opportunities pass us by.
 
You are limited by our Constitution to 125 legislative calendar days. Time is of the essence. Let’s not waste any of those days.
 
I am going to present you tonight with a list of tasks we must do together, to put Mississippi in position to attract even more great careers. All across our state, there are children in elementary school and middle school and high school whose future rides on our ability to get this done.
 
We have attracted more private investment in the first month of this term than we had in the 120 months before I became Governor. And believe me when I tell you that all this movement toward Mississippi has gotten noticed. The people who decide where to locate or expand companies in America see the activity and they are checking us out. Success creates more success and momentum breeds even more momentum.
 
We have an opportunity to make just a few strategic decisions that can yield major results – and not just improvements far into the future, but right now in the present.
 
Most of you know me well. Most of us have known each other a long time. You may not think I’m that smart, but I can tell you I am a lot smarter than I was just four years ago. And what I’m smarter about is what it takes to attract new jobs to our state. Recruiting new industry has been my number one priority and it takes up the bulk of my time. It’s given me a new more detailed perspective on what we have to offer – and what we need to do.
 
For the last year, I traveled the state to say that Mississippi has momentum. In my inaugural address, I articulated our mission: Mississippi Forever. Committing ourselves to the work so that – together – we can make Mississippi a vibrant, prosperous home for all her sons and daughters – forever.
 
Today, I want to talk a bit more about our vision for the next four years and this state we all take pride in. I want to articulate my ambition for where we can go, which rests on the fundamental nature of who we are.
 
We all have pride in the Mississippi spirit, and we all know what that means. Sure, it means that we’re hospitable, God-glorifying, and resilient. But it also means that we have discipline and work ethic. This is a state whose economy does not rest on the wizardry of finance or the volatile next-big-thing. This is a state that is based on timeless economies. Agriculture and Forestry. Manufacturing and Industry. Tradesmen, craftsmen, cultivators, and workers dominate our land.
 
We make things – real things. We make fridges and fighter jets. We make cars and sow cotton. We make bullets and grow soybeans. You can touch our work, and know that highly-trained, capable, proud Mississippi hands made those products.
 
As long as I have been alive, our country and the western world have been steadily drifting away from this work. We’ve been happy to outsource that labor to others in far-off places. And what has it brought us? What has the bizarre combination of globalization and inflation given us that is better than the work of the hands?
 
We have a crisis of purpose and abundant despair in America. Anxiety, isolation, and addiction are on the rise. Everyone recognizes that our culture of outsourcing, apathy, and idleness is slowly killing us. The West is recognizing what we’ve lost, and Mississippi is poised to be the big winner in the realignment of our coming time.
 
In every C-suite in America, they know the need to reshore key industries. They know that we need to bring the work of making things home. For our economy and more importantly our national spirit, we cannot only be a nation of importers.
 
In all that time, Mississippi never stopped making real things. And now, as our national culture catches up to where we’ve been – we can say with our chest poked out that this is Mississippi’s time.
 
We can take advantage of this moment and create unimagined wealth, prosperity, and purpose for our state. We can make Mississippi the new American capital of manufacturing, industry, and agribusiness. Mississippi can be the headwaters of America’s supply chain if we are bold.
 
It is not just the advantage of our hard-working people. World-class Mississippi businesses currently move parts and products around the world thanks to our unique logistics advantage. You can reach 90% of the US population with the shortest average drive and flight times from North Mississippi. Memphis, just to our North, is a global hub for air cargo and transportation served by FedEx and UPS. We are surrounded by water on three sides. In those waters are more than a dozen river ports and ports that are accessible to the Gulf of Mexico. We have deep-water ports at Gulfport and Pascagoula.
 
We have unique advantages in aviation and aerospace. The Stennis Space Center is overflowing with opportunities for commercial space business. Our abundant and rural aviation assets offer the promise of experimentation and innovation.
 
Let’s take full advantage of the immovable asset that is our location. There is literally no better place to make things in America for Americans than right here in Mississippi.
 
To ensure the world cannot deny it, we must continue to invest in our infrastructure to make our logistics second to none.
 
One of Mississippi’s greatest economic and logistical assets is our ports. We need to develop a plan of action to address our ports’ backlog maintenance and capacity projects. Investing in our critical ports from Vicksburg (which handles 14 million tons of freight annually) to Gulfport (where the global maritime shipping industry requires increased channel depth) will yield economic dividends all across our state. We will attract more companies, create more jobs, and secure even more private investment.
 
We must also continue to invest in our airports to meet the demands of industry. By increasing capacity of our hangers through the Airport Improvement Loan Fund, we can take additional steps to attract global interest in our state.
 
And just like we did by creating an Office of Workforce Development, I am also calling on the legislature to establish and fund a state rail authority, whose purpose would be to steward our state’s investments in our rail network. This authority would be an all-encompassing one-stop-shop for all things railroad and would tailor strategies to better develop rail in regions across the state. 
 
Ports, airports, rail – and roads. As good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we should help the Mississippi Department of Transportation increase their efficiency by giving them authority to use alternative delivery methods in completing their construction projects. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in MDOT’s maintenance and capacity road-building projects over the last four years, and we should continue these investments, with a plan for the future. Speed to market is critical, and that is why MDOT must use these resources to quickly develop a strategy to evaluate needed improvements at our top site development locations around the state.
 
World-class logistics infrastructure means world-class speed-to-market. Products move faster. Money flows back faster. More money circulates in our economy. That is the key to our future.
 
It also means we must have sites that are ready to go for large-scale investment. This is how we are shattering records for economic development. Over the last several years, we have worked with local communities to have 30 sites primed and ready – at all times – for immediate uplifting investment. We have invested over $100 million dollars in our site development program in the last three years and this year we must fully fund that program to continue our record-breaking achievements.
 
We must take full advantage of the Mississippi Miracle and ensure our workforce grows beyond most-improved and into the most-undeniable. You know how drastically we have improved our schools, and that the nation’s education-reformers are all asking how they do what has been done in Mississippi. We’ve gone from bad to good. Now we must discover how to go from good to great.
 
We must be innovative. We must be open to new and different models. We should fund students, not systems. We should trust our parents, not bureaucrats, and we should embrace education freedom.
 
One example of how we can help accomplish this is by expanding a model that has worked on the campus of Mississippi University for Women – the Mississippi School for Math and Science.
 
To build on this model, I propose that we create 12 Mathematics and Engineering Magnet Schools throughout the state. By establishing eight Pre-K through 8th grade schools and three more high schools, we can help to ensure Mississippi kids are given the education required to be successful in an increasingly technological economy. 
 
In fact, there is already a great location for one of these schools right across the street from this beautiful building – the old Central High School. Imagine hundreds of talented kids from all backgrounds learning the skills they need to be successful as engineers, computer scientists, and technicians at major tech companies like AWS. It would be good for our capital city and it would be great for those kids.
 
We should also help connect our students with the high-paying jobs our companies need filled.  I call on the Legislature to enact an apprenticeship education model for our high school seniors.  Students could receive academic credit in a hybrid environment versus the traditional classroom-only setting. Our kids could ‘earn and learn’ – meeting graduation requirements while being paid to develop the skills needed for their career.
 
Mississippi kids are our future. And by providing them with a cutting-edge education, we will ensure Mississippi’s future remains bright.  
 
It begins in the elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. Then we reach our potential by unleashing Mississippi innovation and research.
 
We have great minds across many disciplines, but we must double-down when it comes to manufacturing and industrial innovation and invention. We are in a competition for recruitment and retention of talent, and Mississippi has to lead the way. Today, I ask the legislature to establish an incentive program to retain and attract top researchers in relevant fields at our universities. We must win the talent war in order to outpace our competition.
 
We also need to renew our focus on commercializing these innovations. Right now, across our state, great minds are gathered together. In the halls of our universities. At the US Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg. Most people, I’m sure, would be shocked to know that there are more PHD’s per capita in that town than any other place in America. At the Stennis Space Center, where innovation beyond anything this planet has ever seen is happening every day.
 
Mississippi has to take that research and transform it into wealth-generation for our communities. When we learn that art better, everyone can enjoy the spoils that come from the marriage of invention and hard work. We have more highly-credentialed research talent per capita than anywhere in the country. We need to deploy our resources with precision and intensity to seize that opportunity and turn research and innovation into prosperity for our people.
 
One organization critical to this mission is Innovate Mississippi. With the support of the Mississippi Development Authority, Innovate is administering the deployment of $86 million dollars in federal SSBCI funds. By doubling our investment into their operating budget, we can support the cluster strategy of development demanded by the manufacturers of today and make sure we are leveraging every opportunity to promote technology entrepreneurs in our state.
 
There is no sector that demands the innovation, workforce, logistics, and ambition that Mississippi can provide like energy. Mississippi must become masters of all energy–from pipelines to turbines and everything in between. As automation and growth unlock more human potential than ever before, there has never been a demand for abundant energy like this. As the spread of previously unimaginable computing power puts more pressure on our national grid, the demand for domestic sources of energy will be limitless. Large manufacturing and data center investments are getting larger and more expensive. The thirst for All-Of-The-Above Energy has never been greater.
 
We must and will do it all – from oil derricks on our Coast to solar panels in the Delta. I don’t care if it’s green wind power or black crude oil or anything in between. It’s going to be made in Mississippi. All of the above and as much as we can do. As long as it is reliable, resilient, and affordable.
 
We have so much to offer to America’s energy economy. Biomass from wood and agricultural fiber. We have companies working to unlock the potential of hydrogen and wind due to our abundant land and unique salt domes. We have permitted over two gigawatts of industrial solar production in the last few years. And of course, old reliable, natural gas still powers most of our energy portfolio and it is clean, affordable, and dependable. And we are proud of it.
 
We should also look at attracting the next innovation. We should attract manufacturing for key components and assembly of small modular nuclear reactors and expedite permitting and regulatory approvals for their rapid deployment within Mississippi. If we can be bold to position ourselves at the front of that wave, Mississippi industry and families will enjoy the rewards for many generations.
 
And of course my ambition is that this spirit of innovation and pride will carry over into our work in state government. We must transform the way our work is done inside the halls of government. We must unlock the potential that new technologies provide for us to do more with less. We need to reduce the bureaucratic measures that make it impossible for innovation to occur. We have so many layers of red tape between the scoping of a project and implementation that state employees are beleaguered and disillusioned. They have nearly given up on innovation, because our system seems designed to discourage it. We must reform the processes for procuring new technologies or risk falling behind. The economy for public sector technology is robust and competitive. We should do everything in our power to take full advantage of the reduction in cost and improved services to be better for our customers – the people of Mississippi.
 
I call for the creation of a task force whose goal is to improve technology within and across state government. By improving technology and ensuring it’s implemented in a way that matches actual workflow, we can streamline processes at agencies, reduce the time it takes to complete tasks, share information more easily, and provide more efficient, effective services for Mississippians.
 
At the end of the day, that’s who all this work is for. We’re all here in this grand building, with all this tradition and ceremony, but we cannot do this for ourselves. That would be a sorry mission. We do all this for the people who selected us for this work. And at the end of the day, they demand only a few things from us.
 
First, they demand the lowest possible burden on them. That means committing to interfering with their lives as little as possible. We must not convince ourselves that we can solve everyone’s problems, because we know that every intervention in our systems causes countless other ripples. We must be prudent and cautious. We must demand low taxes and regulations. I renew my call to ensure the tax burden on Mississippians is as low as we can possibly afford. Their money circulating in their towns will do more than any additional government program ever could.
 
And finally, they demand that we provide for safety – law and order. They have entrusted to us a monopoly on force. Our law enforcement officers have to run our streets, not those who use force for brute power or personal gain. That is why we must invest in our public safety efforts and use our resources strategically.
 
Earlier this month, I was proud to stand alongside our state, local and federal law enforcement partners as we announced Operation Unified – an initiative whose goal is to root out drug traffickers and violent criminals in Jackson.
 
Working together, we are sending a message to those looking to harm others that their actions will not be tolerated. Together, we are showing criminals that Mississippi will never rest until they are brought to justice and behind bars. 
 
Our law enforcement officers are already making significant progress. To date, Operation Unified has taken 360 criminals off the streets, and we’ve seized 162 firearms and over 34,000 grams in illegal drugs – including fentanyl, meth, and cocaine.
 
Our law enforcement officers are true heroes and none of this would be possible without them. They are putting themselves in harm’s way every single day to keep us safe, and together, I know we can make real progress in delivering the safety and protection Jacksonians deserve. I’m proud of their work, and I know you’ll support them throughout this important mission and beyond.
 
Ultimately, if we handle these fundamentals, I know that the people of Mississippi will have cause to say we’ve done our jobs well. We are at our best when we focus on achieving those basic tasks that have been given to us. And then as we achieve those, we can lift our eyes to see what private industry can achieve when we remove roadblocks. We are at our worst when we obsess over divisions. Disagreement and pointed debate is necessary. Then we move forward into our bold, ambitious future. We embrace Mississippi’s momentum. We carry ourselves with pride and make America’s goods here.
 
I would like to leave you with a bold challenge. It’s bold because it is simple and in politics, the simple things are often the hardest to do.
 
When we were all sworn in last month, we had a great spirit of bipartisanship. We came together, overwhelmed by our positive feelings toward each other and Mississippi.
 
I am asking you tonight to put those convictions in action.
 
Let’s do the things that need to be done, that we can get done, together.
 
Let’s work on that list this year.
 
There will be time to go back to politics and disagreement later. But this year, at this time, with these opportunities, let’s come together.
 
I am proud to be a Mississippian, and proud to work with each of you. I look forward to what we can accomplish over the next four years working together.
 
God bless Mississippi.

The post Transcript: Gov. Tate Reeves’ 2024 State of the State address appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Transcript: Rep. Robert Johnson gives Democratic response to 2024 State of the State address

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Rep. Robert Johnson III, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, delivered a response to Gov. Tate Reeves’ annual State of the State address on Feb. 26, 2024.

Below is the transcript of Johnson’s response, which aired on Mississippi Public Broadcasting following Reeves’ speech.

Editor’s note: This transcript was submitted by Johnson’s staff and has not been edited or formatted to match Mississippi Today’s style.


Good Evening, I’m Rep. Robert Johnson, Democratic Leader in the Mississippi House of Representatives. 

At his inauguration, Gov. Reeves kicked off his second term with a speech centered on how he’d strive to be a governor for “all Mississippi.” He told us that there is “no black Mississippi or white Mississippi. There is no red Mississippi or blue Mississippi,” while he outlined a vision for his second term that, frankly, belied his entire career in public office. 

But after a contentious election cycle, and with Mississippi’s big problems not going anywhere – and many getting worse – it was a welcome message. Since then, however, we’ve watched the governor go right back to what we’ve come to expect from him – red-meat rhetoric and a refusal to confront the very real problems facing our state. 

Tonight you heard from a governor who only wants you to hear one side of the story. Because for every economic development project the governor celebrates, our employment rate remains stagnant. 

For every corporate handout we dole out for one of those projects, our schools remain underfunded by billions of dollars. 

And for every politically-motivated “plan” to address the hospital crisis, hundreds of thousands of working Mississippians are still without access to healthcare. 

A real leader doesn’t see telling the full story as a problem, because a real leader knows being honest isn’t a weakness; it’s a necessity. Embracing the complexities of a situation, engaging in earnest debate, collaborating with experts and advocates – that’s what a leader does. Simply saying “no” isn’t policymaking. Deflection and distraction isn’t leadership. 

Leadership looks like what Gov. Reeves claimed he was working toward in his inaugural address. But unfortunately, you can’t just say you’re a governor for all Mississippi. You have to show it. And Gov. Reeves’ actions speak much louder than his words. 

In the six weeks since the governor proclaimed that “everything we do, we do together,” he has quickly returned to his conservative buzzword approach to governance, saying whatever it takes to get him booked consistently on Fox News. 

He’s blocked nearly $40 million in federal funds to feed more than 300,000 hungry Mississippi children during the summer and help their struggling families. 

And he has continued to downplay the severity of the healthcare crisis – ignoring the long-term damage our large uninsured population will have on an already strained healthcare system – even as his own party moves to address that problem without him.

I’m proud that House Democrats have continued to lead on addressing the healthcare crisis. Mississippi’s healthcare landscape has been decimated by refusing to implement expansion in a timely fashion, and with an eye toward improving health outcomes in a cost-effective way, we’ve developed a pragmatic, practical, and easily implemented plan to get this conversation off the ground. 

Our plan, HB 1146, would insure Mississippians up to 200% of the federal poverty level – those are individuals making roughly $30,000 a year. Traditional Medicaid expansion would only insure individuals who are at or below 138% of the federal poverty level. 

This hybrid plan – a 50/50 combination of traditional Medicaid expansion with private options and premium assistance – will provide insurance coverage to the people that need it most, make insurance coverage more affordable for working families, and would help address the myriad issues facing the healthcare system in our state. 

By expanding the number of individuals covered, our plan will improve access to care in a way that traditional Medicaid expansion on its own could not. Greater access to care leads to better management of chronic conditions, and the prevention of chronic disease. A healthier population will have increasingly positive long-term impacts on the affordability of healthcare across the board, and on the overall strength of our state’s healthcare system. 

Mississippi’s struggling healthcare workforce will also benefit from insuring more individuals. We’re facing a dangerous provider shortage, and as a result of financial returns that hospitals and providers will receive due to expanding Medicaid, we’ll see improved physician retention. 

Physicians, especially primary care providers and general internists, are more likely to locate themselves or stay in a state that has expanded Medicaid. 

For Mississippians who are uninsured, or who have a job but don’t have insurance through that job, they will be put on an individual qualified health plan and have the majority of their total costs subsidized to make it more affordable. 

And for people who are working and have employer health insurance coverage, the state would subsidize their premiums and most of the cost sharing requirements for them. This will both make health insurance more affordable, and incentivize small businesses to offer a group health insurance plan. 

Across the country, the Affordable Care Act has helped stabilize health costs for many small businesses that provide coverage, with the rate of small-business premium increases falling by half after implementation of the law. 

And since 2010, the increase in small-business healthcare premiums has been at their lowest level in years, following regular double-digit increases prior to the law’s enactment.

Small businesses are the backbone of our state’s economy. And without a healthy workforce, our local economies suffer. We literally cannot afford to keep kicking the can down the road. 

We’re glad to see that all of us working toward a solution in the Capitol aren’t being held back by a governor who is more interested in dismissing our effort to come up with a solution, than to offer up an alternative solution himself. 

Year after year, House and Senate Democrats have offered up concrete ideas and common-sense solutions to move Mississippi forward. We’ve authored legislation to address the increasingly dangerous healthcare crisis, raise the minimum wage, fix our state’s crumbling infrastructure, fully fund public education, make voting easier and more convenient, and increase transparency in government. 

We have consistently led the charge on increasing teacher pay and a raise for state employees — and not just when it was politically beneficial to do so. 

We’ve also sounded the alarm on ensuring equity in economic development, so that all corners of our state have the opportunity to flourish. And now, as the governor touts these so-called major economic development projects, and celebrates it being “Mississippi’s time,” it’s hard not to look around at the areas west of I-55 – where the bulk of Mississippi’s Black population resides – and say “for who, governor?” 

Mississippi has the lowest per capita income in the country. We have the highest rate of poverty in the country – nearly 20%. And both of those statistics are doubled or disproportionately worse in the Mississippi Delta and southwest Mississippi. Those numbers simply don’t improve without intentional, equitable economic development. 

So if the issue is an educated workforce, then fund our schools. If the issue is infrastructure, then put more money into our chronically underfunded roads and bridges. If you can spend millions of dollars on site readiness east of I-55, then why can’t you spend millions readying sites west of I-55? 

Refusing to prioritize equitable economic development is a choice. And the people of this state deserve to know why they have a governor who seems perfectly happy to let a significant number of his constituents flail while others continue to flourish. 

During last year’s State of the State and in every public appearance he made on the campaign trail, the governor has told us that “Mississippi continues to be in the best financial shape in its history.” 

And yet, 30% of Mississippi children are living in poverty. One in six women of childbearing age is uninsured. State employees – the men and women who keep our state running – are, on average, paid thousands of dollars less than their counterparts in all of our surrounding states.

Our long-neglected roadways continue to cost Mississippians, on average, $800 in vehicle damage annually. 

When you’re driving to your child’s baseball tournament in Vicksburg or you’re on your way to the Coast for a long weekend — can you honestly say that what you see as you’re looking out the window makes you stop and think “Yes. This is a state in the best financial shape it’s ever been in. This is a state that is trying to keep our best and brightest. This is a state that is working for everyone who’s trying their best to make a life here?”

So, I’m asking you: Is your life any different than it was this time last year? Are you wealthier? Are you healthier? 

The governor will tell you that “when it comes to delivering a quality education for our children, we are getting the job done”; but we know there are classrooms that don’t have pencils and chalk, or a full set of textbooks. 

He’ll tell you that “Mississippi is the safest place for the unborn”; but we know that Mississippi babies are more likely to die before their first birthday than anywhere else in the country. 

He’ll tell you “it’s the strongest our economy has ever been”; and we ask “for who?” Who are you going to believe, Mississippi? The governor or your lying eyes? 

It’s one thing to have different approaches to solving our state’s problems. It is quite another to refuse to acknowledge your citizens’ concerns and ignore many of Mississippi’s issues outright – all while telling us over and over again just how great everything is. 

Mississippians share more values and principles than not. We care about what happens to our neighbors because that’s just who we are. We want our families to prosper and for our children to have a better future and more opportunities than we did. 

Our state is in desperate need of a leader who sees all of that and governs based on it. 

We deserve a governor who has respect for his fellow Mississippian, someone who will lead with honesty and empathy and compassion, and who can make the best decisions for everyone, not just a select few. We deserve a leader who will not only hear people, but listen to them. 

It’s up to us to demand better. Things won’t get better in this state if we continue to let the governor — or any other elected leader — get away with lip service. It’s not enough to just say you’re a governor for all Mississippi. You need to show us what that looks like in practice. 

We’re a better place when we work together and overcome our differences for the good of the people we represent. We need leaders who bring people together, who acknowledge the problems we face and try to understand the causes of those problems alongside the people most affected. 

That’s what leadership looks like. That’s what Mississippi needs from its governor.

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Gov. Reeves doesn’t mention Medicaid expansion or health care crisis in State of the State address

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With momentum growing in the Mississippi Legislature to expand Medicaid, Gov. Tate Reeves said nary a word Monday evening during his annual State of the State address about the issue he has opposed for more than a decade.

Republican House Speaker Jason White has filed legislation to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to primarily poor working Mississippians. Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, also has indicated that his leadership team will take up the issue this session.

Instead of urging legislators not to expand Medicaid as he did during last year’s State and of the State speech, the Republican governor focused his speech on how he said Mississippi could be the new manufacturing hub for America.

Full transcript: Gov. Tate Reeves’ 2024 State of the State address

Reeves, who is known during his more than 20-year political career for his often aggressive and contentious demeanor, said he was “not going to focus on our differences … I am here tonight instead to challenge you as a Legislature to waste no time on the things that divide us, and instead spend your energy this year on things that unite us. Our state has many challenges. We also have many opportunities. In fact we have more opportunities than we have ever had before.”

Some were disappointed, though, that Reeves did not address the health care crisis facing the state. Rep. Timaka James-Jones, D-Belzoni, has been outspoken on the need for state officials to address a lack of hospitals and access to medical care in areas like her district in the Mississippi Delta.

James-Jones, a freshman lawmaker, said she hopes the governor will take serious steps to find bipartisan solutions to all of Mississippi’s issues, but she said it was “problematic” for the governor not to mention the state’s health care crisis in his speech.

“We definitely need to have a candid conversation about health care,” James-Jones said. “I don’t know why he’s not addressing that issue. Folks want to hear what the state is doing about our health care statistics. Don’t avoid the issue. Just work with the people.”

PODCAST: Inside the Medicaid expansion debate at the Capitol

Reeves, who touted two major economic development projects he announced earlier this year, said jobs are returning from overseas to America. He said that is good for Mississippi, which has “never stopped making real things.”

Speaking to a joint session of the Legislature in House chamber of the state Capitol, Reeves said, “We can take advantage of this moment and create unimagined wealth, prosperity, and purpose for our state. We can make Mississippi the new American capital of manufacturing, industry, and agribusiness. Mississippi can be the headwaters of America’s supply chain if we are bold.”

He said to achieve those goals the state must make a significant investment in airports, rails and ports, as well as in Mississippi’s highway system.

In terms of education, Reeves said, “We must be open to new and different models. We should fund students, not systems. We should trust our parents, not bureaucrats, and we should embrace education freedom.”

The governor, who was interrupted multiple times by applause, proposed 12 mathematics and engineering schools across the state modeled after the long-standing Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science located in Columbus. Eight of the new schools would be for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and three would be for high school students. He proposed one of those schools be located in downtown Jackson blocks from the state Capitol in the old Central High School Building that currently houses the Department of Education.

The governor also called for improving technology across state government through the formation of a task force and bolstering public safety.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, who gave the minority response, said to move Mississippi forward, as the governor said he wanted to do, health care must be addressed in a state that has many of the worse health care outcomes and one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents in the nation.

READ MORE: What’s in the House Republican Mississippi Medicaid expansion bill?

While Johnson said House Democrats support what is known as traditional Medicaid expansion, he said the Legislature should go even further this session.

He said the Democrats’ plan “would insure Mississippians up to 200% of the federal poverty level – those are individuals making roughly $30,000 a year. Traditional Medicaid expansion would only insure individuals who are at or below 138% of the federal poverty level.  This hybrid plan – a 50/50 combination of traditional Medicaid expansion with private options and premium assistance – will provide insurance coverage to the people that need it most, make insurance coverage more affordable for working families, and would help address the myriad issues facing the healthcare system in our state.”

Johnson also called for the governor to work with the same zeal to bring economic development projects to impoverished, Black-majority areas of the state as he has in more affluent, White-majority areas.

“Mississippi has the lowest per capita income in the country. We have the highest rate of poverty in the country – nearly 20%. And both of those statistics are doubled or disproportionately worse in the Mississippi Delta and southwest Mississippi,” Johnson said. “Those numbers simply don’t improve without intentional, equitable economic development.”

Johnson concluded: “We’re a better place when we work together and overcome our differences for the good of the people we represent. We need leaders who bring people together, who acknowledge the problems we face and try to understand the causes of those problems alongside the people most affected.”

Reeves also provided a conciliatory tone during his speech.

‘There will be time to go back to politics and disagreement later,” Reeves said. “But this year, at this time, with these opportunities, let’s come together.”

Whether that spirit of cooperation will extend to Medicaid expansion to provide health insurance for an estimated 200,000 poor working Mississippians remains to be seen.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves’ lonely last stand against Medicaid expansion

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Mississippi Stories: Piney Woods School Principal Dr. Will Crossley and Director J.J. Anderson

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Mississippi Today Editor-at-Large Marshall Ramsey sits down with Dr. Will Crossley, the fifth president of Piney Woods School and J.J. Anderson, director, to discuss the new Hulu documentary, Sacred Soil: The Piney Woods School Story. The documentary follows students through their school year at Piney Woods School.


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Education groups urge lawmakers to keep objective formula in place for school funding

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Several high-powered Mississippi public education groups sent a joint letter to lawmakers this week stressing that any rewrite of the formula providing state funds to local schools should be based on objective criteria.

The House leadership has proposed a completely new funding structure that would leave it to legislators to annually determine the base student cost. Under the current funding formula called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which the Senate is working to tweak but preserve, the base student cost is determined by an objective formula — not by politicians. The base student cost multiplied by enrollment equals the amount of money that school districts are supposed to receive, though more affluent districts receive less funding than do poorer districts.

READ MOREHouse leaders want lawmakers, not an objective formula, to determine ‘full funding’ for public schools

The Feb. 20 letter, addressed to House Speaker Jason White, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the House and Senate education chairmen, and every lawmaker, was sent by:

  • The Mississippi Association of Educators.
  • The Mississippi Association of School Superintendents.
  • The Mississippi Professional Educators.
  • The Mississippi Association of School Administrators.
  • The Parents’ Campaign.

“We believe that a guiding principle in the development of such (school funding formula) should be an understanding that the purpose … is to reflect the true cost of educating Mississippi children to a proficient level in core academic subjects and otherwise preparing them for success in college and career,” the letter reads.

To achieve those goals, the letter continues, “essential components” of a formula should include “a base student cost determined by an objective formula. The base cost represents the cost to bring a typical student to academic proficiency as defined by state academic standards.” The formula also should include “an inflation factor to account for increased operational costs to be applied in any year in which there is not a full recalculation of the formula.”

The Senate Education Committee has passed legislation to make some changes to MAEP, but the Senate bill maintains the objective funding formula and preserves a growth factor, though at a level lower than the current level. Whether a compromise between the two chambers on the funding formula can be achieved could be one of the most contentious issues of the 2024 session.

READ MORE: Senate committee passes bill to tweak but preserve MAEP, the public school funding formula

The letter from the education groups went on to say that a rewrite also should include additional funding for students living in poverty, for special education students, for gifted students and for students learning English as a second language. The letter also advocates for more funds for career and technical education and to address teacher shortages in both geographic areas and in subject areas.

The letter advocated for “an equity provision” providing more state funding in poor districts and less state funding in more affluent districts.

The bill that the Senate Education Committee passed this week would require more affluent districts to contribute more toward the base student cost, or toward the cost of providing an “adequate” education. The Senate bill would not make any adjustments to the amount of money going to poorer districts. But Senate leaders say they hope to fully fund the formula, pumping an additional $215 million into the program providing more assistance to poorer districts, as it would all districts.

The House plan provides more money for various groups of students who might take more money to educate, such as poor students, special education students and English learners.

MAEP has been fully funded only twice since its implementation in 1997 — the last time in 2007.

READ MORECould this be the year political games end and MAEP is funded and fixed?

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