JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - In almost 30 years, Mississippi education has gone from no state funded kindergartens to computers in the classrooms.
The sweeping changes came through the efforts of leaders who fought for the Education Reform Act of 1982.
Tuesday, they were honored at the Jackson Convention Complex.
Nearly three decades ago, Mississippi lawmakers passed legislation designed to transform an education system viewed as the last in the nation.
The Education Reform Act of 1982 was passed during a special legislative session called by Governor William Winter who agreed to push for a tax increase to fund the program.
It was called "The Christmas Miracle of 1982".
"That was a key in passing because when the legislature saw that the governor would take the blame for raising taxes that was the key to us having success with that program," said Andy Mullins Ph.D., who was Special Assistant to Governor Winter in 1982.
Dr. Mullins is currently Chief of Staff to the Chancellor at the University of Mississippi.
"There was a lot of opposition in the legislature at the time and I saw threatening letters that some of my colleagues were getting, but once we put the Boys of Spring on the road things changed," said honoree Robert Clark, the first African American elected to the House of Representatives.
Tuesday the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education paid tribute to the men behind getting education reform passed.
Robert Clark was also the House Education Committee Chairman when the legislation was approved.
Clark worked with six members of Governor Winters' staff called "The Boys of Spring".
They included Andy Mullins, Dick Molpus, David Crews, John Henegan, Ray Mabus and Bill Gartin.
With the legislation came the establishment of state kindergartens.
"Governors and legislators had never run very strongly in favor of education after that education became number one on the platform of almost all candidates," Former Governor William Winter said.
Clark and "The Boys of Spring" were presented the Winter-Reed Partnership Award for improvements in funding the state's public education system.
"They were the forefathers in 1982 and worked the streets, worked the legislature in getting the education reform act passed, and we are very honored to have them with us tonight, proud of what they did for the State of Mississippi," MAPE president Debbie Anglin said.
Despite the educational advances, Mississippi is the only state in the southeast without Pre-K education.
"Now we hear the same kind of excuses for not having four year old programs," Mullins said.
"If we do not have Pre-K, a child is already lost when he or she gets to school and 90% of them will never catch up," Clark said.
Secretary of the Navy and Former Governor Ray Mabus, as well as Bill Gartin, were unable to attend the event.