TUPELO • An array of education policies sit atop Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s priorities for next year’s legislative session – policies he pitched, in part, as linked with the economic goal of getting more Mississippians working.
Hosemann, a first-term Republican headed into his second session as presiding officer of the state Senate, swung through Northeast Mississippi on Tuesday. He met with local elected officials, economic figures and sat for an interview with the Daily Journal.
On education, Hosemann said he remains committed to a teacher pay raise, a 2019 campaign promise which was derailed in this year’s session by tax revenue drops linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Hosemann said he still wants to pursue some kind of pay raise for the state’s educators. He also potentially wants to retool incentives for public school teachers involving student loans.
But more broadly in scope and impact, the lieutenant governor is intrigued by the possibility of what’s often called a quarterly or year-round public school calendar. The Corinth School District has been a pioneer of this modified calendar and is the only district in the state to use it.
“I’ve been very impressed with Corinth,” Hosemann said.
Last month, the state Senate Education Committee held hearings on the subject of modified school calendars, and the Tupelo Public School District recently held a listening session with teachers on the subject.
There is limited research whether student outcomes are stronger under this modified calendar, but Hosemann said the data he has seen out of Corinth is positive and believes there may be a role for the legislature to provide some funding as needed to assist districts that want to make the switch.
“There is some consideration at this point to incentivizing schools to go to that,” Hosemann said.
Dual-credit and dual-enrollment arrangements between high schools and community colleges are also on Hosemann’s agenda, with the lieutenant governor thinking about education and economic policy in tandem. He wants to see students “more focused on a career” in 11th and 12th grades, and he wants to see a clearer pathway for students from school to employment, especially the majority of students who won’t attend a four-year college.
The need for a clear employment pathway is particularly acute ahead of a legislative session, scheduled to begin in early January, still under the long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic uncertainty triggered by it, especially in the hospitality industry.
To that end, Hosemann said he wants to see the state’s labor participation rate improve. In recent years, even as state leaders have lauded Mississippi’s unemployment rate, the labor participation rate – which includes the unemployed who have stopped looking for work – has been near the bottom nationally.
“Part of that is having jobs available,” Hosemann said. “We can’t increase our workforce if there’s not a place to work.
Hosemann said he’s working with David Rumbarger of Northeast Mississippi’s Community Development Foundation and other economic developers across the state to simplify and maximize various financial incentives offered to private industries that locate in Mississippi, while weeding out unused incentives.
And as he assesses the “uneven impact” economically of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hosemann hopes to see any additional federal recovery that may be forthcoming contain an infrastructure component.
“Infrastructure is a good long-term investment,” Hosemann said.
The current schedule calls for the Mississippi legislature to next convene on Jan. 5.