By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON Republican gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour outlined his education plans Wednesday, including a proposal to create a Mississippi Education Extension Service to help families prepare children for school.
"Public education is the No. 1 economic development issue in our state and every state and it is the No. 1 quality of life issue,'' Barbour said in a speech at the Eudora Welty Library.
Barbour's opponent in the Nov. 4 general election, Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, has focused on education issues as governor and previously as lieutenant governor and state senator.
Barbour covered a number of issues in public education, including the importance of early childhood education, the need for full funding of higher education and the need for discipline in the classroom.
"To do better in education, our standards must be standards of excellence,'' Barbour said. "We cannot drift down to the lowest common denominator in our education system. If you have low expectations for children, they will meet them. Aim high. Don't settle for less.''
Barbour said with the current budget woes, the state could not afford to implement a statewide pre-kindergarten program. But he proposed a Mississippi Education Extension Service, modeled on the Cooperation Extension Service which assists farmers and their families. The program would function in a similar way to help parents get children ready to start school. Barbour said the cost of the program could be as much as $10 million, but might be less.
Barbour also proposed expanding the Head Start program by including four-year-olds and enhancing educational instruction, and said the federal government rather than states should maintain control over Head Start.
The Yazoo City Republican also said over time that cuts made to higher education because of recent slowdowns in state revenue collections must be restored and he stressed the importance of university economic development missions.
He also called for reforms in the charter school law, increased recruitment incentives for new teachers, honoring the current teacher salary raise commitment, and freeing high-performing school districts from some paperwork requirements.
He emphasized that discipline must be restored in the classroom.
Referring to Musgrove's successful initiative to place an Internet -connected computer in every classroom. Barbour said, "I think a computer in every classroom is a good idea, but I think some discipline in every classroom is a better idea.''
When asked how he would instill that discipline as governor, he said he would let teachers know they had his support and would continually talk about the importance of discipline.
Lisa McMurray, Musgrove's campaign spokesman, said Musgrove signed legislation in 2001 giving teachers more authority to remove "habitually disruptive students'' from the classroom.
Musgrove has had the backing of the Mississippi Association of Educators this year as in past campaigns.
"This is about style vs. substance," McMurray said. "Haley Barbour is talking about style and changing the titles of things, while Gov. Musgrove is working to make real improvements in education by demanding accountability and raising test scores. Gov. Musgrove has a record of working to improve education in Mississippi for the last 16 years and Haley Barbour doesn't have a record."