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Community commitment key to strong educational system

How much is a college degree worth?

According to a recent report, $23,000 per year is the answer.That represents the average gap between wage earners who havebachelor’s degrees and those with only high school diplomas.

Here in Mississippi, where we rank third from the bottom instates with the largest number of adults without a high schooldiploma, that gap increases to $32,385 for what some say is closeto 40 percent of this state’s population. Those are startlingstatistics for either side of the education debate.

With statewide elections coming next year one of the red meatissues will be education. With statistics as quoted above,education should be the main course.

Already jumping into the fray are public school supporters whoare trying to insure full funding of the Mississippi AdequateEducation Program (MAEP). Through a series of pep rally typemeetings, supporters are trying to build grassroot support for fullfunding of the state’s 152 public school districts. An estimated300 people attended the regional meeting in Brookhaven a few weeksago.

Supporters are asking for the Legislature to simply comply withstate law by funding schools at levels required by legislationpassed nine years ago. Since that time, public school officials saylegislators have only complied with the law once – in 2003.Supporters claim since 2005 the state’s schools have been underfunded by $287 million dollars.

Gov. Haley Barbour on Thursday announced his education plan,which does not include full funding of MAEP – effectively drawing aline in the sand on next year’s funding debate.

Also jumping in to the election year fray are the state’scommunity colleges with funding requests that include a three-yearplan to increase per-student funding by $2,171 or $125 million; a$128 million bond program for a five-year capital improvement plan;and a $19 million plan to attack Mississippi’s high school dropoutrate problem.

As it will be debated during the next year, throwing money ateducation will not solve the state’s education woes.

Some will say the 60 percent of the state’s general fund budgetspend on public education is too much and that a 25 to 30 percenthigh school dropout rate is proof that we are wasting money. Otherswill point out that the Mississippi ranks 48th among the states inper-pupil spending, and that the dropout rate is proof we need tospend more to attract better-qualified teachers andadministrators.

Despite the debates and arguments of the past, one thing we doknow in this area is that our communities have invested in oureducation systems. And while they may not be perfect, our schoolsystems are better than in the past with the result being athriving economy for Brookhaven and the surrounding area.

Look at the growing parts of the state and the nation and youwill find one common denominator – a strong community commitmentfor education and higher average annual salaries.