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Mississippi’s former Commissioner of Education and current NU President, Hank Bounds, has introduced Blueprint Nebraska as a way to grow Nebraska and to improve conditions around our state. When Bounds tried a similar program in his home state of Mississippi, the results were dismal. Last week I exposed how Blueprint Mississippi failed to turn around the economic conditions of that state; this week I will reveal how it failed in the area of education.
The fourth stated milepost of the Blueprint Mississippi action plan was to “increase the educational achievement level of Mississippians,” but just four years after it was implemented, Blueprint Mississippi failed to improve education in that state. According to StateMaster.com Mississippi ranked dead last in the nation for the percentage of people who had completed high school in 2014, including those with a GED. Only 77.3 percent of Mississippi residents had completed high school that year. And according to Business Mississippi Journal, in 2014 the state of Mississippi ranked 51st out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C. when it came to overall school performance in K-12 schools. According to the report, “Mississippi also ranked among the 10 lowest states in providing young people a chance for success in life, financing schools, and improving teaching.” Earlier this year U.S. News and World Report ranked Mississippi as the 46th worst state in the nation for K-12 education.
In 2013 state legislators voted to reduce state spending on K-12 education by $648 per pupil. Instead of providing the citizens with some much needed tax relief, they took the people’s education money, gambled with it, and lost. They acted in accordance with Blueprint Mississippi and gave $1.33 billion in tax breaks and incentives to Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi auto plant in return for a promise to create higher paying, full-time jobs. Nissan pocketed most of the money, used a temp agency for new hires, hired mostly part-time workers at half the rate of pay and no benefits, and implemented a five year wage freeze. What happened with Nissan is a perfect example of why tax incentives for businesses seldom ever result in economic growth for the state. To the contrary, when you reduce taxes everyone gets incentivized and everyone benefits.
Blueprint Mississippi failed in the area of higher education as well. The University of Mississippi is that state’s primary research university. In 2010 U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Mississippi at #143 among the nation’s top universities. However, by 2014 the university had slipped six places in their rankings to #149. Earlier this year U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Mississippi at #145. So, Mississippi’s primary research university has never recovered in the rankings since Bounds launched Blueprint Mississippi back in 2010. Therefore, it appears that Blueprint Mississippi has done very little, if anything at all, to improve education in that state.
As I stated last week, I am not against the overall idea of Blueprint Nebraska. However, if the committees associated with Blueprint Nebraska don’t listen to the people and put the people of Nebraska first, I’m afraid we will only repeat the mistakes of Mississippi. As you can see, giving tax breaks to big businesses or incentivizing new businesses is not the way to grow the state, especially when it is done at the expense of K-12 education; in fact, incentivizing business is nothing more than a high-risk, high-stakes crapshoot.
I believe it is time for Nebraskans to make an assent from the Good Life to the Great Life, and the best way to make that happen is for government to get out of the way and to let the people keep their own money and to spend it on what they already know they need, such as a college savings plan.
People tend to make better decisions with their money than do politicians or government bureaucrats. Education spending is fraught with fraud and waste primarily because it is a third party (i.e. government) transaction, instead of a first party (i.e. consumer) transaction. When people buy merchandise or services for themselves, they tend to care a lot more about the quality and the value than when politicians or government bureaucrats buy it for them. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Government should only do those things that a man cannot do for himself.” Parents, not the government, are the ones responsible for educating their children. So, without a plan to cut spending, and reduce taxes, and put more money back into the pockets of our own citizens, we will likely become just like Mississippi.