Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn have each expressed that their main priority heading into the 2013 legislative session is education, and rightfully so. Education reform was one of only a few topics that eluded Republicans in their first session with the majority in both chambers, and it was by far the most notable given the fracture within the House GOP that sank the measures.

We reported from the Neshoba County Fair this summer where each leader spoke rather forcefully about the need to finally bring meaningful educational reforms to Mississippi, allowing the state to make better use of the dollars spent on education, increasing accountability of those in school administrations and in the classroom, and giving parents a choice in their child’s educational future.

Lt. Governor Reeves provided perhaps the most memorable remarks on Founder’s Square when he said, “I have a message for people in both parties who are scared of the future of education reform: buckle your seat belts. Reform is coming to Mississippi.”

There is no doubt that these Republican leaders have thrown down the gauntlet and expect all 174 members of the Legislature to get on board. While Republicans look to have the votes to jam through its version of charter schools and other education reforms, that may not be the right answer. This is a real opportunity for Republicans to break the backs of state Democrats on the education issue. Those citizens in the inner cities of places like Jackson are literally trapped in bad schools. When Republicans can reach out and connect a single mom in the inner city that wants to send their kid to a better school and place Democrats and the education “elite” between them and that goal, Republicans will not only win, but they will have momentum and maybe some new followers.

There are many, particularly in the black community in the Delta and in more urban settings around the state, that are clamoring for charter schools. Many black ministers want a charter school as part of their ministry. Many parents just want the opportunity to send their kids just up the road, but across district lines to demonstrably better schools. Bryant, Reeves and Gunn would do well to find those voices and reach out to them publicly and privately, conscripting them for the fight. Mississippians need to look no further than New Orleans where now a full 80% of kids attend charter schools. Test scores are higher, life is better and education is being delivered to black and white, rich and poor on a more equitable basis.

But, as is to be expected, Mississippi Democrats and those in charge of the 152 fiefdoms would rather resort to scare tactics and fear mongering than engage in an adult conversation about the good, the bad, and the ugly that is Mississippi’s current educational system.

WCBI captured the start of Democrats and school bosses beating the education war drum as we steadily approach the 2013 legislative session.

Sen. Hob Bryan (D), one of three lawmakers to attend a school superintendents’ meeting in West Point, emerged as the leader of the liberal band against education reform as proposed by the Republican leadership in the Legislature. Bryan said, “This is the most dangerous legislative session for public education in the past 50 years. Public education is under attack, people need to wake up and realize that.”

Bryan went on to say, “There are those who are going to attempt to rewrite the law to produce lower funding for the public schools. We’re already the lowest funded schools in the nation and yet there’s going to be an attempt to reduce funding for public education.”

Mississippi Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Sam Bounds followed Bryan’s lead saying, “Our public education is not broken. It may need to be tweaked, but we don’t need to totally dismantle public education.” As noted in the WCBI story, Bounds was alluding to “charter schools and other proposals as some of the efforts that could be counterproductive unless handled carefully.”

Democrats and school chiefs would do well to actively engage in the education debate with Bryant, Reeves, and Gunn instead of taking cheap shots for a quick sound bite, seeking to stir up what little base they have.

Outright rejecting the measures being proposed by the new Republican majority when under their watch Democrats only continued Mississippi’s downward education spiral and resorting to such scare tactics when the need across the state is palpably obvious within the scores of youth in our classrooms shows very little concern for the future of these students and even less respect for the taxpayers who are consistently told that more is needed when the return of their investment is negligible.

Bryan’s comments are merely the beginning, however. Education reform minded Mississippians need to circle the wagons now and buckle up as Reeves advised.

The war drums may have started but having an open, honest, inclusive discussion is still the only way to move education reform forward in Mississippi. Distraction and fear only serve to divide us, promoting a cycle of endless rhetoric that ultimately does nothing to improve the state of education or provide our youth with better futures.

Here’s hoping that today’s youth aren’t sacrificed for the sake of good political theater by the left. Mississippi needs educational reforms now.

(Video of the WCBI story below)