In a statewide tour, Haley Barbour said the key to attracting more high-paying jobs to Mississippi is improving the state's workforce training programs. However, he says over the past three years the state has done just the opposite by cutting funding for the principal institutions for workforce development, community colleges, to the tune of $47 million.
"The biggest point here is not money, but with strong management with better leadership from the top and we can improve coordination of these programs," said Barbour. "We can integrate the efforts and we can get more bang for our buck."
By getting more bang for the buck, Barbour said the state must do more to secure federal money to fund the programs, something which, if elected, he plans to do.
There are 15 community colleges in Mississippi. All provide some degree of workforce training. Despite recent cuts, officials at Meridian Community College say they have not been forced to make any layoffs but also have not been able to expand the 28 occupational programs the school now offers.
"There are other programs we like to bring here to attract new jobs to the community, but you're just not positioned to expand when you're being cut like that," said MCC president Dr. Scott Elliott.
With the legislature renewing its commitment to education, Dr. Elliott said the cuts will not be as severe this year. Meanwhile, officials with the current gubernatorial administration contend that the federal government has given Mississippi high marks for its job training programs. However, Barbour says much more can be done.
"There are many agencies involved in this and the only person who can really drive an effort to integrate everyone's effort is the governor," Barbour said.
Addressing controversy over a remark he made recently, Barbour said he will not apologize.
While talking to an elementary school principal in north Mississippi,
Barbour said some Head Start children would be better off "sitting up on a piano bench in a whorehouse" than at home.
"The only regret I have is that the Commercial Appeal wrote the story in such a confusing way that you couldn't tell if I was for Head Start or against it," said Barbour. "And the school principal understood what I was saying about there's a lot of students in Mississippi who are in such terrible conditions with drugs, crime, alcohol, sex, that they'd be better off almost anywhere."
Barbour said he supports Head Start.