Education is always root cause

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, January 7, 2014

At noon today, a Mississippi certainty will be born again.

As surely as humidity blankets the state in August and nearly every single Mississippi granny over the age of 65 will offer up sweet tea to houseguests, a fight is about to begin, a fight over money.

Mississippi lawmakers will convene the 2014 Legislature today, marking the beginning of a three-month pushing and pulling period about how to spend state money.

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Rarely, however, do lawmakers stop and realize just how interconnected the state’s financial problems actually are.

This year, coming on the heels of a legislative report on the state’s corrections system, lawmakers seem intent on cutting prison costs.

No one should be surprised Mississippi’s prison costs are on the rise. The state has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country. Louisiana has the highest. Unless something is done, millions more dollars — hundreds of millions — will be required to continue to imprison the ever-growing population.

Ironically, few people seem to be focused on one of the real, but slow-to-materialize factors leading to incarceration — the state’s abysmal education record.

Just as Mississippi ranks at the top of the list for the percentage of citizens incarcerated, the state also ranks near the top of the list for having the highest high school dropout rates too.

Sadly, the two are connected at the hip, but rarely conjoined at the budget trough.

Chances are high that when the Legislature dismisses, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — the source for the majority of education funds trickling down to school districts — will not be fully funded again this year. Full funding has only occurred twice since the program’s inception in 1997. Both were election years.

What will it take before Mississippi lawmakers realize that the solution to nearly every single social problem we face can be improved by consistently treating the education of Mississippi’s children as the No. 1 priority?