BILOXI -- Local government and education go hand in hand, according to Strengthen Our Schools speakers at the Mississippi Municipal League conference Tuesday.
"Education is a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later kind of thing," Madison County Schools Superintendent Ronnie McGehee said. "You either educate or incarcerate."
McGehee joined Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran, state Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson, state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport, Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Mayor Jason Shelton of Tupelo and Mississippi Association of Educators President Joyce Helmick at the panel discussion, which was a call to fully fund education at the state level.
The officials also talked about an initiative to let voters decide whether or not to fully fund schools. A ballot initiative headed by Better Jobs, Better Schools seeks to bring the issue to a vote in 2015. The group wants Mississippi lawmakers to set aside 25 percent of all new money coming into the state for education. The initiative must have nearly 108,000 signatures before it can be put on the ballot.
Moran said when the state doesn't fully fund schools, the bill winds up being the problem of local governments.
"In order to lessen the burden, we just forgo our own projects," Moran said. "That means deferred maintenance, it means poor road repair. When the legislature underfunds education, it simply shifts the financial burden."
Panelists also talked about making kindergarten mandatory for all 5-year-olds in Mississippi and lauded those who helped pass a teacher pay raise this year.