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Gov. Barbour Urges Churches, Families To Be Involved In Schools




Community support can help reduce dropout rate, illegitimacy Gov. Haley Barbour today called on churches and families to be more involved in schools to help decrease the dropout rate and reduce illegitimacy.  He also said public schools and universities will need to become more effective at getting graduates ready for either a job or higher education. “Separate from government and not as a state program, we need to ask our churches to commit themselves to the education of the children in their congregations and their communities,” Gov. Barbour said at the Governor’s Workforce Conference in Jackson. “I know if the pastor and, especially, the women leaders of our churches decide they must mentor mothers of little children, and work to help their children attend and learn, to study and succeed, those mothers and their children will succeed.  They’ll succeed far better and far more often than many are doing today.” The speech was the second of a three-part series on how to Keep Mississippi Moving. He spoke about returning American values and a strong work ethic at an event in Tupelo on Wednesday. Gov. Barbour will talk about budget responsibility at 1 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, 2350 Beach Boulevard, in Biloxi. Text of Thursday’s speech in Jackson: Education Speech Jackson, MS December 8, 2011 Yesterday in Tupelo I made a speech about values . . . traditional American values . . . and how they relate to improving economic growth, education and health outcomes in Mississippi. Since I go out of office in about a month, I thought it appropriate, maybe even important, for me to talk about issues and problems that the next Administration and Legislature will face in the coming years. The subject matter will be familiar but I hope I can bring some fresh ideas about solutions. At this Workforce Conference, I intend to stick pretty closely to education, including skills training. In fact, let’s go right to your subject matter, because I’ve tried very hard to increase state and federal support for workforce development. The creation of the WET fund or Workforce Enhancement Training Fund has put more funding into our community college workforce programs every year.  Further, we’ve pumped in a lot of training funds as incentives for new businesses, usually through the community colleges, which are our principle workforce development institution. I’m proud of their progress, and they’ve been very successful.  Just ask Toyota, Severstal, GE Aviation and many others. In the process of improving workforce development, we have de-stigmatized skills training, which was long overdue. Fifteen years ago our younger son, Reeves, was a senior in high school.  Now suppose back then Marsha had gone to the beauty parlor and told everybody, “Reeves has decided not to go to Ole Miss.  He’s going to go to Holmes and learn a skill.” What would they have said to Marsha at the beauty parlor?  “Marsha, what’s wrong with him?” Of course there are tens of thousands of jobs that require skills but not a college degree.  They pay $50-$75-$100,000 a year with great benefits.  They lead to wonderful, rewarding careers and a great quality of life.  A nice home.  Two cars and a boat.  College educations for their kids, if they choose that route. But we had stigmatized skills training by encouraging people to believe that everyone needed to go to the university. That’s not true.  Indeed, that attribute has led to some bad results. A few years ago Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and I were together on a program in Memphis. A question came up that led Huckabee to this response.  He said, “Compared to twenty-five years ago, three times more Arkansas high school graduates go to college.” But then he said, “Compared to twenty-five years ago, the same number of Arkansas students graduate from college as did back then.” Then what about that … about the two-thirds who went to college but didn’t make it?  We haven’t done them a favor.  Either they or their parents are out a wad of money.  Many students have run up a debt.  A lot have failed because the system set them up for failure. The university is not for everybody, but, more importantly, tens of thousands of our young people can and will have great careers, with high earnings and wonderful lives because of the skills they develop in workforce training. Concurrently, our economy needs workers with skills; with industrial skills or construction trades or with high-tech skills related to computers, software, robotics and on and on. In raw numbers, our economy (state and national) needs more workers with high skills than we need university graduates.  In absolute numbers. As our high school redesign efforts progress, one major goal is to introduce students to skills training and trades earlier … in middle school, before they start thinking about dropping out.  This is important when you consider that most of our dropouts are passing.  Many just don’t see college in their future or recognize the need to get a high school diploma. In parallel, as we push for more dual enrollment and dual credit programs, there should be more dual enrollment for skills training. When a high school student takes a course at the community college and gets credit toward his high school diploma and for required community college hours, that saves his parents money and the student time. We can do the same thing in skills training that yields credit for high school graduation and toward a certificate in a trade or technical area. And, to further assist those who need and desire skills training, we have asked the U.S. Department of Education to grant a waiver to pilot a skills education model that allows students to receive Pell Grants for community programs that are not taught in the traditional semester calendar.  This would allow federal aid for programs that get the student into the workforce more quickly. Workforce development and student aid is the area of education where we spend the least, directly.  But it is the educational sector which pays off the fastest.  It is the quickest return for the taxpayer, and it is the fastest return for the student.  And, because a quality workforce is essential to economic growth in job creation, continued improvement of workforce training is critical to Mississippi’s future. And don’t forget, once high school students or graduates learn a skill and get a certificate that makes them employable in good-paying jobs, with prospects of solid careers, we’re not through. Innovation and technology mean change in the workplace is constant.  Productivity increases are essential to staying competitive in the global marketplace. As a Mississippi State professor told me my first month as Governor, “Our businesses have three choices:  They can innovate; they can emigrate; or they can evaporate.” Well, successful innovation requires workers who can deploy and operate the technology.  So staying competitive … staying in business means workers have to be retrained and retrained; often several times in a career.  It is lifetime learning, and we must continue to embrace it at every level of education. This is not something we owe our employers; this is something we owe to our working people, so they can have the skills to result in high wages, good benefits and a good quality of life. Although this is a workforce conference, I want to speak a little on both the higher education and our k-12 schools. I have strongly advocated and pushed for greater funding of workforce development and skills training at our community colleges.  They are our primary public institutions delivering skills training, though we need to upgrade that effort in high schools. But our community colleges aren’t technical schools like some states have moved toward, and they shouldn’t be. Our fifteen community colleges play a necessary role in academic higher education.  Both their proximity and price point make community colleges more available than the universities.  An Associate’s degree in Mississippi is a real bargain. Another academic gap filled by community colleges must be remedial education. Like it or not, a lot of our high school graduates aren’t prepared for college.  They need remedial classes to catch up.  This should be at the community college at a far lower cost than the university. In the future, I see community colleges continuing to expand their workforce programs and greatly increasing the number of students enrolled in skills training and retraining classes, often tailored to the students’ particular workplaces and jobs.  Mississippi needs this, and we need more of it. But I recognize the academic must remain strong.  Indeed, I expect through distance learning and other uses of technology there will be more academic students enrolled in our community colleges, though they may not go on campus very often. Our community colleges are vital to Mississippi’s education system and our economy, but they must control costs like every part of state government. State appropriations to community colleges overall will be reduced next year.  Fortunately, they have two ways of dealing with the reality. Fortunately, they’ve got two ways they can deal with it. First, they can save money.  Shared services in administrative areas will save all the community colleges money.  Whether it’s purchasing or accounting, administrative activities need to be consolidated and shared. Another area for savings is athletics.  State funding for intercollegiate athletics – at the community college or the university level – should be paced back and ultimately eliminated.  I love intercollegiate athletics; but it needs to cover its own costs.  Our athletic programs need to cover their own costs. Fans, alums and students need to pay for it, not taxpayers. Finally, and most importantly, our community colleges have large reserves that they can use if the savings can’t be achieved quickly. The State has spent several hundred million dollars of reserves from the Rainy Day Fund among others.  Those reserves will be largely depleted after next year, and they need to be replenished.  It is time for our schools – K-12, community colleges and universities – to spend down some of their reserves in these strained fiscal times. Our university system is another great asset to our state.  It is an economic development gold mine, and we’re learning to do a better job mining it. Particularly our four research universities have recognized that economic growth and job creation are part of their core missions.  They have to go beyond research and development, and on to application and commercialization. The Polymer Institute at USM was the pathfinder, and we have a significant composites sector, plus numerous innovations that have benefitted our defense industries, especially shipbuilding and aerospace. Mississippi State has CAVS, the Raspet Flight Center and the Franklin Center for Furniture Manufacturing and Management.  All assist our existing industries and help us attract new ones. The E-Center at Jackson State is a major asset and attraction for businesses. Finally, the Center for Manufacturing Excellence at Ole Miss will be a critical pipeline for executives in manufacturing companies.  It is genuinely unique in the U.S. Just as we’ve done much better at workforce training at the community colleges, our universities have become far bigger economic development assets. An area that needs improvement is the output of our colleges of education.  We have to do a better job of preparing school teachers to educate our K-12 students.  IHL and the Department of Education are working on this together, and I believe they’ll make the improvements both at the teacher and the principal levels. I mentioned that workforce education is the fastest return on our money.  It is, but the universities develop the vast majority of our leaders and our innovators, not all, but most. I expect higher education to come under great pressure to change.  While I don’t agree with everything in it, I recommend you read Charles Murray’s book, Real Education. The Bachelors degree has become a certificate of sort.  Having received a Bachelor’s degree indicates to employers that a person can learn to do a job; it doesn’t indicate that person already knows how to do the job. College graduates usually still need a lot of training and experience. Many people, and I’m one of them, think a four-year degree is unnecessary to certify to employers that students are ready to work.  The cost of a Bachelors degree, while a bargain in Mississippi compared to the country as a whole, is still very large – tens of thousands of dollars. Increasing enrollment in our universities – indeed, to record levels almost every year – show cost is not yet a barrier, but high levels of debt ought to be concerning you and everybody else. Common sense tells us lower-cost alternatives are in our future.  Who is going to provide them, and how? Our universities should be on top of this; offering distance learning; developing curricula shorter than four years; alternative degrees focused on technology, with perhaps narrower fields of study. Some percentage of Americans benefit from or even need the broad liberal arts education that lead to a baccalaureate degree, but I suggest not all 80,000 currently enrolled in our eight universities need that. But if our universities don’t respond to the need for change, someone else will.  Technological change allows many entrants into this field, and informational technology gains make it easy for students – traditional and older – to utilize alternative providers at lower and lower costs. Our universities have to develop shared services to reduce administrative costs.  We spend way too much on administrative expense. Their athletic programs also need to be self-supporting.  And universities, if they cannot immediately achieve savings, will need to draw down their reserves. The status quo will not prevail much longer, especially since only one-fourth of community college students earn an Associate’s degree within three years of enrollment, and fewer than half of university freshman in Mississippi public universities earn a bachelors degree within six years! Compare the cost with the failure rate, and you understand something must change. Our k-12 schools’ graduation rate seems very good compared to higher education.  It’s about 71 percent.  But this is painfully low. I spoke in Tupelo about dropouts, so I won’t plow that ground again today; but suffice it to say 71 percent is not good enough. Lots of good people are trying to change that for the better:  teachers, and remember, a quality teacher in a classroom is the first essential to a quality education; principals, who more than any single person in the school system can powerfully change a school for the better; leaders, both public and private, who lead changes in programs or curricula or training that make a big difference in outcomes. Many good things have happened in Mississippi schools, but the results are not what we need.  So we have to demand more. And I suggest to you strongly that the vast majority of our failing students first are being failed at home. Don’t take that as harsh, but understand, it is true.  The child’s parents – or far too often, one parent – doesn’t encourage or help the child in school.  Many times, the parent can’t help with the reading or math, if they tried.  And, sadly, many of these parents don’t even require their kids to attend school. One of the many pathologies of illegitimacy is failure to graduate from high school.  It is consistent with other bad pathologies associated with children born out of wedlock, often to teenage mothers, who have no father in the home. In Mississippi, about fifty-five percent of all births are out-of-wedlock, often to teenage girls. This isn’t a new problem, but it is a worsening problem. This is everybody’s problem. That’s why the Mississippi Women’s Fund, an advocacy group for women’s issues, this year called for a significant reduction of the number of children born to teenage girls. This week The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal editorialized on the need to reduce the illegitimacy roll in our state, listing the serious social, health and economic problems faced in large numbers by children born out of wedlock. I spoke about this yesterday in Tupelo and set a goal to reduce illegitimate births by half within five years. The high illegitimacy rate isn’t the only negative facing Mississippi’s K-12 schools.  Yet it does point us in the right direction for improving school results. It points us toward home, toward parents. In communities where parents demand good schools, and support those schools, you find clearly better results.  And it doesn’t revolve around money. Some districts with the lowest spending per student have very high scores and performance.  Some high-spending districts per student have very low scores.  It’s not all about money. We spend about $4.5 billion – state, local and federal – on our K-12 schools, more than $9,000 for each of our 470,000 students.  I wish we could spend more, but I also wish we could spend better. But the truth is, money won’t solve our school shortcomings; won’t get families and parents involved. So let me make a suggestion:  We need to get our churches more involved in education. In many communities, the church is the most powerful social institution. Separate from government and not as a state program, we need to ask our churches to commit themselves to the education of the children in their congregations and their communities. I know if the pastor and, especially, the women leaders of our churches decide they must mentor mothers of little children, and work to help their children attend and learn, to study and succeed, those mothers and their children will succeed.  They’ll succeed far better and far more often than many are doing today. I’ve asked a group of ministers gathered by Bishop Ronnie Crudup, to review my proposal and, I believe they are prepared to develop and organize a non-government program to get churches and their leaders into what would be a powerful ministry and social services – one that would change Mississippi for the better, for decades to come. I believe we can actually have that in place by this summer for the next school year. I hope all of you, who believe in our workforce, will encourage your pastor, your church. This is urgent to improve our schools and our workforce now. Dropping out today, that is sad for a child. It is sad and discouraging for what that child will get out of life. When 29 percent of children drop out, then that becomes that community’s problem. The cascading effect is when one job creator says I’m not sure I can find what I need there. That becomes one community’s problem, one state’s problem. Thank you, Becky, and thank you all.]]]]> ]]>

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