Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann announced his appointment of Bill Jacobs, formerly the publisher of the Brookhaven Daily Leader and the Prentiss Headlight, to the Mississippi State Board of Education on Tuesday. Jacobs, already serving on the boards of the National Newspaper Association and the Mississippi Economic Council’s operating board, is Hosemann’s second appointment to the undersized Board of Education in a year.
The Senate must confirm Jacobs’ appointment, alongside Gov. Tate Reeves’s earlier appointments of Dr. Angela Bass, executive director at the Mississippi Early Learning Alliance, and Glen East, currently the superintendent of the Gulfport School District. However, new appointees may begin to serve immediately.
In a press statement, Hosemann said Jacobs’ long career in journalism qualified him to join the nine-member education authority, which plays a key role in establishing the statewide educational curriculum.
“Bill Jacobs has spent his entire career asking questions, researching the facts, and reporting his findings to the wider public to improve his community and exhibit transparency. These traits, along with his business sense and support for public schools, make him an excellent addition to the Board,” Hosemann wrote.
Hosemann’s pick brings the board closer to full membership, after lagging appointments on the part of Hosemann, Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, left the board so understaffed it previously failed to achieve a five-member quorum.
Gov. Reeves appoints five of the members of the board. Gunn and Hosemann appoint two each. Gunn has yet to announce his final appointment to the board.
In his own statement, Jacobs highlighted the importance of public schools, the “foundation of every community,” in his words. “The current brain drain of many of our best and brightest to other states is the most disturbing failure for its continued path weakens even our best school systems. These are challenging days for our state, and I look forward to joining the others on the Board to find credible solutions.”
‘Do The Basics’
Jake McGraw, policy & civic engagement lead at the William Winter Institute For Racial Reconciliation, sees education as a key component to the state’s ongoing brain drain. His institution has been tracking Mississippi’s population loss for years—the state was the second-fastest shrinking state in the U.S. and one of only three states—including Illinois and West Virginia, to lose population in the 2020 Census.
In an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, McGraw tied a struggling, underfunded education system to the continued outflow of residents out of Mississippi. “For the state government, I think the message is: don’t overthink it. Don’t get too fancy. Do the basics. If you fully fund education and create more teaching positions, that means more professional jobs—particularly in places that are losing them.”
State Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, celebrated Jacobs’ appointment in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press. “I’ve known Mr. Jacobs a long time. When I was communications director for Secretary of State Eric Clark, I was actively involved with the Mississippi Press Association and the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information. I’ve always appreciated his work in the newspaper business. He looks like an outstanding appointment.”
Blount said the leadership of the State Board of Education would be critical in the days ahead, with an enormous investment of federal dollars to be appropriated next year.
“I think it’s particularly important that we have a strong state education board right now, because we’re seeing a historic one-time infusion of money, and it needs to be spent wisely,” Blount said. The senator, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, highlighted last year’s successful laptop drive as a perfect example of the value of centralized, coordinated decision making.
Gaps in Education Board Remain
Speaker Gunn still has a spot on the state’s education board to fill, but with eight members, all of whom can serve while awaiting confirmation, it is at least likely that no more decisions will be delayed for lack of membership.
Jacobs fills the spot of former chairman of the board, Jason Dean. Replacing Dean as chairwoman is Rosemary Aultman, appointed chairwoman for a one year term after Dean’s departure.
Reeves will soon have an additional seat to fill. Dr. Karen Elam’s term expires this July, which will drop the board back down to seven without an additional appointment from Gunn. Just last year, the Legislature blocked Reeves’ final appointment as lieutenant governor, shooting down the appointment of Nancy Collins in favor of a pick from the incoming Lt. Gov. Hosemann.