Neshoba County Fair Speech 2012
Posted: Wednesday, August 1st Filed in: News, Press Releases
AUGUST 1, 2012
LT. GOVERNOR REEVES: EDUCATION REFORM IS ESSENTIAL TO IMPROVING STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
NESHOBA COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS –
Lt. Governor Tate Reeves said in his speech at the 2012 Neshoba County Fair that he will continue his focus on reforming the state’s education system to improve student achievement and develop a stronger workforce.
“I have a message for people in both parties who are scared of the future of education reform: buckle your seat belts,” said Reeves. “Reform is coming to Mississippi.”
Lt. Gov. Reeves said he will build upon the education reforms passed in the 2012 Legislative session, which included screening kindergarten and first grade students for dyslexia and consolidating administrations of struggling districts in both Sunflower and Bolivar counties.
The Legislature also passed a new rating system for school districts that will clearly communicate how districts are performing. In September, districts will be graded by A, B, C, D and F, which provides parents with a transparent system of assessing schools.
He expressed disappointment in the Board of Education’s recent decision to remove the dropout rate as an accountability factor in grading the districts as the Legislature implemented a new ratings plan.
“Some of our education leaders are more worried these grades could embarrass principals or administrators,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “But I’m more worried about the opportunities for our children than bad P.R. for the adults.”
Lt. Gov. Reeves renewed his call for public charter schools to give parents a choice in their children’s education.
“The education status quo is failing us,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “The way up is not to bury our heads in the sand. It’s to confront the hard truths – and change our approach.”
Lt. Gov. Reeves' speech as prepared for delivery is below.
NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR 2012
Thank you for welcoming me back to the Neshoba County Fair! It’s always an honor to participate in this special Mississippi tradition.
My wife Elee is here. Elee and I appreciate the fair organizers giving me this late speaking slot, because we had a late night in Jackson with our two older daughters Tyler and Emma at the American Idol concert. Maddie, our newest addition, stayed home.
Like most everyone in Mississippi, our girls became big Skylar Laine fans. She put on a great show.
I have to tell you that being in a coliseum full of screaming teenage girls was a little challenging. With three young daughters I guess that’s a preview of what’s to come at my house in the next few years.
And I have to say … I am NOT ready for that!
But after going through my first legislative session…how much worse can it be?
You’ve heard from Commissioner Lynn Posey and Commissioner Dick Hall on all the ways they’re working to keep the lights on and the roads safe.
You’ve heard from Stacey Pickering about how he’s working hard to protect our tax dollars. And you heard from our Attorney General Jim Hood.
General, my girls have been watching so much American Idol if they were here Tyler would’ve said your speech “was a little pitchy,” and Emma would’ve said it was “just alright” for her. But I’m sure they would invite you back and give you one more shot!
Neshoba Countians, you should know that your Senator Giles Ward is doing an excellent job representing you and leading the Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee.
I have been a duck hunter my entire life, and I have put Senator Ward on notice that if we don’t have a good season next January, I will hold him personally responsible.
We put together a solid leadership team in the Mississippi Senate this year to represent the entire state. We didn’t just appoint leaders from central Mississippi where I’m from – and we didn’t limit leadership to just members of my party. We put a team together that reflects all of Mississippi.
It was a pleasure working with the first Republican Speaker of the House since Reconstruction. As a team, Speaker Gunn, Governor Bryant and I passed strong, conservative legislation.
We completed the session on time and saved you money. There were several Fridays and Mondays when the Legislature took off because we got our work done and everyone went home. We saved taxpayers more than 375,000 dollars by getting the job done and getting the politicians out of town!
And, for the first time in ten years, the Legislature passed a balanced budget on time.
If only Washington could do that we would all feel better!
We also did something good for our economy. We cut the taxes businesses pay on their inventory. What a difference a conservative majority makes!
The liberals have opposed this tax cut for years. But it’s just common sense. Now, our small businessmen and women can AND WILL invest more in growing their businesses and putting more Mississippians to work.
I campaigned last year on cutting government waste, and one of the most egregious examples has been our spending on state cars.
Taxpayers have paid for about 7,500 vehicles – that’s one for every four state employees – even buying cars for the government in a recession, when most Mississippi families couldn’t afford to buy one for themselves.
That is far too many government cars. So we placed a yearlong moratorium on state car purchases and ordered a two percent annual reduction in the fleet for three years. That’s going to save you, the taxpayer, twelve million dollars.
You may also remember that I stood here a year ago and promised not to slap every legislator’s favorite pet project onto the state credit card and burden your children and grandchildren with unnecessary debt. I said it, and I meant it.
For the first time in the memories of most people, we did not have a bond bill this session. It was time to draw the line and take a break from the borrowing.
There are some good projects, some projects that we need. And I hope we get some of those funded next session. But I can promise you this – just like the Senate did this year – we are going to offer a conservative borrowing plan for only the most essential needs.
We must permanently change the mindset in the legislature about borrowing money. Every dollar we commit to servicing debt is a dollar that can’t be invested in public safety, healthcare and education every year.
We cannot let feel-good debt threaten our priorities.
Another accomplishment in the last session is that our budget set aside money in the Rainy Day Fund for only the second time in eight years, and we ended the fiscal year with 268 million more dollars than we anticipated.
Now there are some people in Jackson who are mad that we didn’t spend more of your money. They see it as THEIR money and believe we have to spend all of it. I don’t see it that way.
Our state economist predicts that our revenues will not return to pre-recession levels for another two years. He described our economy as weak and vulnerable. That should be reason enough for us to continue saving and watching what we spend.
But if that’s not enough, we now have ObamaCare as the law of the land, and we’re going to need every dollar we can find if it remains the law. If we expand Medicaid like the President wants, we’ll have to find another 1.6 billion dollars over the next seven years. Clearly, we can’t afford that.
I don’t know about you, but that’s one more reason why I’m hoping for some change in Washington this November!
Speaking of change, we are taking the first steps toward real reform in our public schools.
First, we invested nearly $30 million more than last year into K-12 education.
Did you catch all that? We saved money, we stopped borrowing, we cut taxes and we STILL were able to put more money into our schools.
That is conservative leadership at work!
Next year, we will put an even brighter spotlight on education.
We must support our school system, but we must also raise the level of expectations for everyone – for administrators, for teachers and most importantly for our students.
Raising our standards won’t be easy. Unfortunately, some in our education establishment have too often become more focused on the appearance of success than on achieving real results. There are some who are more worried about protecting their positions or their turf than they are about graduating more students and getting more students into college.
This was obvious two weeks ago when the state Board of Education removed graduation rates from the state’s accountability system for rating schools.
Let me repeat that: Our state Board of Education told school districts that they need not worry about graduating students to earn a good rating.
So while we’re struggling with a 17 percent dropout rate – which experts say is probably much higher in reality – those who shape our education policy are saying, “Don’t worry about graduation rates. That’s not important.”
Why did this happen? Because the Legislature tried to raise the bar.
We revamped the way our schools are rated to create a clear, easy-to-understand system: A, B, C, D and F.
Beginning in September, we will do away with the current system that lumped school districts into SEVEN different categories that never clearly communicated how those districts and the schools in them were performing.
For example, we have about 30 districts labeled “successful,” but some of those have a majority of their schools rated below “successful,” and two districts labeled “successful,” had NO SCHOOLS rated as being “successful,” or better.
The new A through F grading system will create transparency. Students and parents will know what those ratings mean. We all know what we expect from an ‘A,’ and we all know we can do better than a ‘C.’
Some of our education leaders are more worried these grades could embarrass principals or administrators…but I’m more worried about the opportunities for our children than bad P.R. for the adults.
When you compare Mississippi’s average ACT scores to other states, we show the lowest percentage of students displaying college readiness in all four ACT exams.
That’s not good enough.
According to ACT standards, we adequately prepare only ten percent of our students for college-level work.
That’s not good enough.
We shouldn’t hide these dismal results – we should change them.
The education status quo is failing us. The way up is not to bury our heads in the sand. It’s to confront the hard truths – and change our approach.
When it comes to the new grading system, we didn’t just make this stuff up. We’ve seen it work with our neighbors in Louisiana. We spoke with Governor Bobby Jindal and others around the country who said this system made a difference in their states.
Former Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education said they started this grading system in Florida in 1999, and their student achievement has skyrocketed. At first, they had 500 schools graded As and Bs. Today, they have more than 2,300 schools earning top grades. As Jeb Bush would say, “What gets measured, gets done.”
We know the new grading system is not a cure-all. That’s why we’ve also allocated $500,000 to accreditation review teams to go into our school districts and closely evaluate where they are on all 37 standards set by the state. For us to improve, we must know what needs improvement and what standards aren’t being met.
Other positive steps taken this year include the consolidation of some failing school districts. In Sunflower County, we had three separate school districts all under state control. We consolidated those into one district and required an appointed superintendent. That will free up $1.2 million that can be spent in the classroom instead of the central office.
In Bolivar County, they had fewer than 7,000 students in SIX school districts. We are trying to reduce those districts to three, which would free up $1.3 million in administrative costs that can be re-directed to classrooms. That consolidation effort is currently in the hands of the Justice Department – if anyone has any connections there, I hope you’ll put in a good word.
We are not done yet.
I will not stop pressing for public charter schools until they are a reality in Mississippi. The Senate passed it; the House did not. I’m not quitting.
Charter schools give children better options in Memphis, Arkansas, and Louisiana. We know they work. There’s no good reason for denying parents a voice in the education of their children.
Some of our education administrators view charter schools as a threat.
I, on the other hand, view public charter schools not as a threat to our school districts but rather as a tremendous opportunity to reach students who aren’t being well served in the traditional system.
Public charter schools will provide a choice for parents and students – a choice that could help keep more of our children in school, that could help increase our graduation rates, that could help increase student achievement and that could help increase the overall education attainment level of our citizens.
I have a message for people in both parties who are scared of the future of education reform: buckle your seat belts. Reform is coming to Mississippi!
Our families depend on us to improve our economy. And our economy depends on improving our education system. It’s not more complicated than that. Everyone involved knows it. Everyone involved agrees with the objective.
Surely, we can come together….and work together…and embrace a better future together. Our people deserve nothing less.
I look forward to continuing to work with educators, legislators and citizens to achieve those goals and to keep Mississippi the best place in America to raise a family.
Thank you for the privilege of serving. May God bless the State of Mississippi.