By CARMEN K. SISSONĀ 

The Dispatch–May 25, 2011

Education is the driving force behind economic development and the key to producing a stronger, more recession-proof Mississippi, state Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds told the Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon at the Country Club of Columbus.

It is a message Bounds has been spreading for months as spokesman for Blueprint Mississippi 2011, a statewide initiative to form a strategic economic plan for the state through educational achievement, resource management, economic competitiveness, and technology commercialization.

Bounds said when the project went on the road, collecting feedback from citizens across the state, he found the optimism in Columbus to be greater than any other region, with more than 62 percent of people saying they believe Mississippi children will be able to find a good job without leaving the state and more than 84 percent saying they believe Mississippi can improve its competitive position and experience growth over the next 20 years.

Bounds said because statistics show 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs in the first four years of life, the state needs to push for a greater emphasis on early childhood education, and issues like poverty must be addressed.

“Being poor does not indicate you can’t be successful,” he told Rotarians, “But children who grow up in poverty don’t typically grow up in print-rich, vocabulary-rich environments.”

He said children who grow up in households classified as below the poverty level will hear an average of 20 million fewer words by the age of five than children who grow up in more affluent environments, and statistics indicate they are more likely to drop out of school or end up in prison.

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