The Mississippi Legislature adjourned yesterday after passing a $106 million education bill designed to propel Mississippi out of last place as the poorest, least-educated state in the union.
When the measure is signed by Gov. William F. Winter, Mississippi law will provide free statewide public kindergartens for the first time, a 10 percent teacher pay increase, stiffer public school accreditation and teacher certification standards and an effective compulsory attendance law.
"It's the most significant thing any legislature has ever done for this state," Winter said.
The governor fought for a hike in oil and gas severance taxes to finance the reform package, but legislators bowed to oil lobbyists who portrayed an industry beleaguered by glut, tumbling prices, shrinking profits and looming layoffs.
Instead, the legislature boosted the state's 5 percent sales tax, already among the highest in the nation, by a half-percent starting in January, 1984. Income taxes for those earning more than $10,000 a year will be raised next year from 4 to 5 percent.
"All of us should pay part of the cost because all of us are going to benefit," said state Sen. Ellis Bodrun, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who implored colleagues not to penalize "the winners."
"A sales tax does exact a higher portion from those of limited means, but a gift is paternalism," he said. "The unfortunate ought to be asked to be on the team."
Winter's aides had feared this year's education package would suffer the same fate as the two similar bills killed in previous sessions. Public kindergartens have been beaten back for 20 years, and Mississippi is the only state without them.
Last week, the 122-member Mississippi House passed the educational package and a 1.5 percent hike in severance taxes, which have not been raised since 1944. The Senate then cut kindergartens from the bill, only to have a joint conference committee restore them and cook up the sales for oil tax switch.
Ray Mabus, the governor's chief legislative liaison, attributed passage largely to the intense scrutiny legislators came under. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," he said.
Although the sales tax most hurts Mississippi's large population of poor blacks, every black legislator voted for the bill except one.
One supporter, Isaiah Fredericks of Gulfport, said he approached the vote "with a heavy heart" but saw the reforms outweighing the regressive tax.
The bill passed 96 to 25 in the House, comfortably exceeding the necessary three-fifths' margin, and 37 to 13 in the Senate, where 30 votes were needed to pass.
It calls for:
* Free statewide public kindergartens for 40,000 5-year-olds. The $40 million program begins in 1986, with optional grants for schools that want to start a year earlier.
* Ten percent pay raises for public school teachers, whose $13,000-a-year average salary is among the lowest in the nation. The legislature also promised to bring teachers' pay up to the southeastern average, now $16,000, within five years. The national average is about $19,000.
* Teachers' reading aides in grades 1 through 3 to begin next year in the first grade, which, in effect, cuts class size in half.
* An effective compulsory school attendance law that provides for truant officers and holds parents accountable under child-neglect laws. One university study estimated that 3,000 children did not show up for first grade. The last effective attendance law was abolished by the legislature in a fit of segregationist fury in 1957.
* Stiffer accreditation rules for public schools based on performance standards to be set by a new lay board of education. Schools have three years to measure up, or risk losing state funds. Public schools get 70 percent of their budgets from the state.
"If they don't comply, they don't play football," said Mabus. "That's a powerful weapon. No school in Mississippi wants to give up football."
* Stricter teacher certification, with bonus pay for teachers who upgrade their skills. Only 3 percent of those who take one nationwide teacher exam score below the passing score Missisippi sets for its teachers.
The bill also provides enough money to raise salaries for state employes and university teachers.
Winter, 59, blamed the nation's highest high school dropout rate, the lowest per capita income and the tendency for high-tech industry to bypass Mississippi for other Sun Belt states on a neglected education system.
Mississippi has a 42 percent high school dropout rate, compared to 10 percent nationwide. Thirty-five percent of those who try to join the Army flunk its standardized intelligence tests; 9 percent fail nationwide.
More than half the state's 5-year-olds do not attend a pre-school program because their parents cannot afford private kindergartens or do not qualify for federal programs such as Head Start.
Mississippi was 44th among the states in per pupil spending for education in 1979-80, the last year for which actual spending statistics are available. If the new money approved this week had been added to Mississippi's total that year, it would have ranked 40th among states.
Many educators blame poor student test scores, among the lowest in the nation, on no kindergarten. One study found that 16 percent of first graders had to repeat, costing the state $11 million.
For the last two decades, many white legislators resisted passing kindergarten programs because "they saw it as a baby-sitting service for black children," said Rep. Jim Simpson, the governor's floor leader. CAPTION: Picture, GOV. WILLIAM F. WINTER . . . praise for $106 million school bill