Bryant Pushing Education Agenda

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With his first legislative session as governor behind him, Phil Bryant is gearing up for round two.

"This year must be the year for transformational change in education," Bryant said.

The biggest part of the change Bryant wants is a charter school system. That effort was derailed this past session.

As Republican leaders push for passage, many Democrats say the focus should be on the current system by fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. That's the funding formula which has only been fully funded twice since being created more than 12 years ago.

Democrat Rep. Linda Whittington, who sat on the House Education Committee and voted against the charter school bill, says she's not against charter schools, but is against rushed legislation.

"If we're going to go down that road then I just think we need to have a very strong charter school bill that is negotiated on the front and cannot be negotiated on the back," Whittington said

Despite expected debate, Bryant says he feels confident much of his education agenda will be successful.

"We laid out a five-point plan that deals with everything from merit pay for teachers and opportunity scholarships to charter schools," said Bryant. "We must get that done this year to give opportunities to children who are in failing districts or who are in districts that need help."

Part of that plan made it through the legislature already, with this year's passage of dual enrollment programs. So far Bryant says it has been a success.

"What we're able to do is take a young child who may be dropping out, who gives all the indications of dropping out of school and dual enroll them in a community college," Bryant said.

The Mississippi Development Authority supports the move as well due to its connection in attracting businesses and jobs to the state.

"We're very much interested in trying to make sure that we're continuing to grow a workforce for the future," said Kathy Gelston, MDA's chief financial officer.

The workforce, Bryant says, starts with an education overhaul.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn, leading both legislative chambers, are also pushing to pass a charter school bill.