Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Hood on Tuesday detailed an ambitious education program which, if fully implemented, would bring the biggest increase in Mississippi education spending in more than a decade.
Hood, Mississippi's attorney general, told reporters after appearing at a school in Greenville that he wants to expand Mississippi's small state-funded preschool program, make a big boost in teacher salaries and pay the full tab called for by Mississippi's education funding formula.
Hood also said he wants to expand subsidies for aspiring teachers and make it easier to qualify academically to become a teacher. He says those measures are needed to combat a shortage of educators in Mississippi.
The Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, has said that Hood's plans on education and other topics are unrealistically expensive without tax increases. Hood's proposals would amount to something more than $500 million a year in increased spending, once fully enacted over several years.
The state's funding formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, has long been a source of political contention. Democrats and many public school supporters say schools need more money, while Republicans fear money is wasted on administration. Republican leaders haven't tried in recent years to hit the funding target required under the law and unsuccessfully sought a major overhaul of the formula after voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have enshrined a funding mandate in Mississippi's fundamental governing document.
Full funding would require $2.55 billion next year, according to preliminary estimates submitted this summer. That's an increase of more than $330 million over what the state is spending this year.
"A lot of Delta schools here have been cheated by the Legislature on proper funding," Hood told reporters.
Hood also called for a $3,000 boost in teacher pay over two years, saying the $1,500 provided by lawmakers this year is insufficient. Using numbers from this year, that would cost more than $150 million. Hood would go farther than that, realigning yearly increases for experience so educators would get a 2% boost for each year they teach up to 25, and then a 5% yearly boost for years 26 through 35. The Hood campaign didn't immediately provide an estimate of how much the higher yearly increases would cost.
Hood also proposes spending about $45 million more over four years to expand state-funded pre-kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds. He says increasing funding to Mississippi's early learning collaboratives, public-private partnerships that provide the classes, would help 23,000 children not served by Head Start, private or some other pre-K.
During the Republican primary, Reeves proposed a workforce development plan that included calls to expand computer science education and do more to let students earn college credits while in high school. Reeves' biggest proposed education item would be a $75 million infusion into community colleges to modernize worker training efforts.
Reeves has said he supports increasing teacher pay but hasn't said by how much.
"Jim Hood and Tate Reeves agree that we need to keep raising teacher pay and allow alternative certification so that we can get additional talented people into the classroom," Reeves spokesman Parker Briden said in a statement. "The difference between Hood and Tate on education is that Hood's plan does not focus on student performance at all while Tate Reeves will keep reforming our system to ensure our kids are learning."
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