Gov. Tate Reeves delivered his first State of the State speech Monday and outlined his goals for improving education, the state’s foster care system, and rural hospitals while cutting regulations.

The first-term governor also announced that infamous Unit 29 at Parchman will close and that a nationwide search is being conducted for a new corrections commissioner. 

Reeves said he supports a teacher pay increase and increasing the progress made by Mississippi students in the classroom. From 2017 to 2019, Mississippi students were first nationally in progress made on both the fourth grade math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

Reeves has already signed into law a bill that provides a deficit appropriation to fully fund a $1,500 pay increase that was passed in the last session. There are also several bills in the Senate and the House that would increase teacher pay, including a $1,000 raise bill authored by state Sen. Dennis DeBar (R-Leakesville), who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

A raise passed by the legislature this year would mark the fourth pay hike for teachers since 2000.

“I do not want to aim for average,” Reeves said. “We have achieved incredible education gains that put Mississippi at the top of the charts for test scores. We should not just aim for passing grades. We can and should aim to excel.”

Reeves also wants Mississippi to be the nation’s leader in the number of certified teachers.

He also outlined his plans to expand the state’s training programs for trades while taking a few shots at the higher educational system nationally. He wants a $100 million workforce development program that would increase apprenticeships and provide more community college grants and assistance for workers.

“There has been a malicious myth spreading across our country for many years: That the only way to achieve the American dream is through a four-year university degree and a career behind a desk,” Reeves said. “That myth comes from the arrogance of an elite class that sees their comfortable life as the only ideal. They are the same metropolitan narcissists who look at our state and sneer. They have tricked millions of Americans into taking on mountains of debt and wasting precious years—all based on a conceited lie. 

“We must break the cycle. In Mississippi, we can be at the tip of the spear. Because in Mississippi, we know that there is pride in a trade. We know that there is money to be made. We can let the east coast have their ivory towers. We can let the west coast have a generation of gender studies majors. We will take more jobs and higher pay.”

On the state’s embattled foster care system, Reeves said he wants to promote adoption and move children to permanent homes.

“But today, I ask that we would all take a moment to recognize our responsibility for these kids,” Reeves said. “I ask that you would join us in working to reform the system that is set up to protect them. There is much that we can and must do.”

Reeves said he supports a major expansion of the rural physician scholarship program and tax incentives for businesses that contribute to hospitals in rural areas. He also said he supports expanded telemedicine.

“I believe that we must create a reason for doctors to locate in underserved areas,” Reeves said. “We must put patients first and protect them from the higher costs.”

On regulation, Reeves went on the offensive. He said he wants improve customer service and make it easier for workers to receive occupational licenses.

“As governor, I plan to take a hard look at all of the regulations on the books that make it harder for people to live and work here,” Reeves said. “If you want to make a living in Mississippi, we want to make it easy for you to live in Mississippi. It will help us to keep young Mississippians here, and recruit even more to live and work in our great state.

“That will be a focus of our administration. And we will count on the people of Mississippi to let us know where red tape blocks their path to prosperity.”