JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said in his State of the State speech Tuesday evening that citizens expect "bold action" from elected officials in 2013, with an emphasis on strengthening education and promoting job creation.
The Republican said he wants lawmakers to approve a broad package of education proposals, including merit pay for teachers, more emphasis on reading in early elementary grades and setting higher academic standards for college students who want to become teachers. Bryant is also seeking approval for charter schools, which would be free from some regulations faced by most other public schools.
"It is imperative that we remember what others have also known — the path to Mississippi's economic success must pass through the school house door," said Bryant, who's starting his second year as governor. He has been discussing most of his education proposals for months.
The three-month legislative session is now in its third week and members of the House and Senate are starting to consider bills. The full Senate passed one version of a charter schools bill last week, and the House Education Committee on Tuesday passed a separate measure. Both chambers must agree on a single version before a bill can go to the governor.
Republican lawmakers stood and applauded loudly when Bryant said he wants to sign a charter schools bill into law. Many Democrats sat silently. Critics say charter schools would drain resources from a school system that's already receiving too little money.
Bryant said about 17 percent of Mississippi students who begin high school never graduate, and about half of the state's third graders are not proficient at reading.
"These facts cannot be swept under the rug or explained away by concluding we just aren't spending enough money on public education," he said. "Make no mistake: These alarming numbers are evidence of a crisis in our education system and are tied directly to our dropout rate, our poverty rate and more. Our very economic stability as a state is threatened if our education system is not improved."
Bryant said job creation must remain a priority. During the speech, he announced that Ashley Furniture will open a mattress manufacturing and customer service center in the north Mississippi town of Verona, creating 60 jobs.