Candidate Q&A: House District 66

Special Election 2020

Our public education questionnaire was offered to legislative candidates in the September 22 special election. A runoff election will be held October 13 between Robert C. “Bob” Lee, Jr. and De’Keither Stamps. Search for candidates’ questionnaire responses below.

Gregory L. Divinity

Defeated in September 22 special election
 
1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? Myself and my children all attended public school.
 
2. Do you agree that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) should be fully funded every year? If yes, what actions will you take to ensure full funding? If no, explain why. The MAEP is the funding mechanism for our state’s public schools. See https://tpcref.org/mississippi-adequate-education-program-maep/ for information. I believe that MAEP should be fully funded each year. I will work diligently with all legislators to ensure it’s a priority to get accomplished.
 
3. What will you do to ensure state revenue that is sufficient to provide all of the services Mississippi’s citizens need to lead productive lives? I will champion bills that address issues that assist in providing revenue to our state that help our citizens lead productive lives.
 
4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? I will address this based on the needs of our students because this pandemic has proven a need for virtually based schooling.
 
5. Do you agree that all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer dollars, including private voucher schools, should be accountable to taxpayers for the quality of education they provide, using the same accountability measures as public schools? Yes, I believe that all schools should be held accountable.
 
6. Public schools serve the vast majority of Mississippi students with disabilities. Do you agree that special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year? (Special education has been underfunded by the state every year since 2008.) If yes, how will you accomplish full funding? If no, explain why. Yes. I would work with my colleagues to make sure we get legislation in place for children with disabilities so their education will become a priority on our agenda to fully fund.
 
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. I will champion and/or assist in championing a bill for high quality early education for the entire state.
 
8. The nation’s top teachers say that the greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students are family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems. What steps do you believe legislators should take to alleviate these obstacles for Mississippi children? Step one is to have MAEP fully funded. This would allow each school to be staffed with a social worker and a mental health therapist.
 
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes. I believe that teachers and teacher assistants should be adequately compensated.
 
10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? Yes. I don’t believe that because a person is a retired educator that they should be hindered in anyway from lending themselves for public service.
 
11. Legislators have little or no staff to help them understand the many bills they must consider. Before introducing or supporting a bill that could affect public education, will you commit to seeking input from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents of public school students in your district? Who will be advising you on education policies? I am committed to using all available resources to ensure that I will make informed decisions on legislation that come across my desk. Dr. Antrice Bryant will head up a team of educators and former educators that will advise me on all education legislation.
 
12. In the past, legislators have received tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that could contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How would you respond to such pressure? I am committed to addressing the needs of my community. I will develop a quarterly town hall meeting so that I may personally inform my constituents on legislative issues and get a clear understanding of issues that need to be addressed in the community.

Robert C. "Bob" Lee, Jr.

Advanced to October 13 runoff election

Fabian Nelson

Defeated in September 22 special election

1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? I was educated in the Yazoo City, MS public school district. I have several family members, including a niece and several nephews that attend public schools. I feel that all children should receive a quality education to prepare them for life.

2. Do you agree that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) should be fully funded every year? If yes, what actions will you take to ensure full funding? If no, explain why. The MAEP is the funding mechanism for our state’s public schools. See https://tpcref.org/mississippi-adequate-education-program-maep/ for information.  Absolutely! MAEP should be fully funded every year (not only during election years as it has in the past) to ensure that no school district in our state is falling behind. Once elected, I will monitor funding of the MAEP annually to make sure that we are fully funding this program. Alongside this I plan to visit our school districts that are falling behind to make sure they are benefiting from this program and see what else can be done on the legislative side to help them.

3. What will you do to ensure state revenue that is sufficient to provide all of the services Mississippi’s citizens need to lead productive lives? Budget oversight is the key to making sure that Mississippi is providing the appropriate funding for our citizens to live productive lives. 

4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? Yes, I feel that until ALL of our public schools are FULLY funded, we cannot afford to divert taxpayer funds to any schools other than our public schools. We all pay taxes to fund our local schools so that is where our tax dollars belong.

5. Do you agree that all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer dollars, including private voucher schools, should be accountable to taxpayers for the quality of education they provide, using the same accountability measures as public schools? I agree that any entity receiving taxpayer dollars should be held to the same accountability measures as public schools. We cannot give the money of taxpayers away with no accountability measures in place. 

6. Public schools serve the vast majority of Mississippi students with disabilities. Do you agree that special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year? (Special education has been underfunded by the state every year since 2008.) If yes, how will you accomplish full funding? If no, explain why. Special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year. We cannot leave any of our children behind, even if there is only 1 child in the entire school that needs special accommodations. Our goal is to protect our children and present all of them with the tools needed to provide a quality education.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes! High quality early childhood education should be offered statewide. In addition, workforce development should start from day one of our children’s education. 

8. The nation’s top teachers say that the greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students are family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems. What steps do you believe legislators should take to alleviate these obstacles for Mississippi children? As we break down all the barriers, we find that the common denominator is poverty. The stress that poverty places on the family leads to family stress which causes learning and psychological problems in our children. To combat poverty, we have to focus on better paying jobs in our community, quality education, and stabilization of our economy. In addition, we also need to make sure that we are providing quality counselors and mental health specialists on our school campuses for our children.

9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Absolutely! Our teachers and teacher assistants are working extremely hard to educate our children. They all deserve to be paid at the same (or more) as our neighbors.

10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? Retired educators, and retired state employees have a wealth of knowledge being that they have worked in government/education for many years. We cannot restrict someone that wants to hold public office as long as the same guidelines are followed in regard to how much they can earn and still receive their pension. The retired educators that decide to offer themselves for public service should be allowed to receive their benefits while serving. 

11. Legislators have little or no staff to help them understand the many bills they must consider. Before introducing or supporting a bill that could affect public education, will you commit to seeking input from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents of public school students in your district? Who will be advising you on education policies? I will never vote on a bill that I do not fully understand. Education is the backbone and future of our state. I have a team of trusted advisors consisting of current and former educators, and current and former administrative staff. It is my belief that those who have experienced the disparities first hand are the best voices to listen to before voting on legislation.

12. In the past, legislators have received tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that could contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How would you respond to such pressure? Once elected, I am there to serve the citizens of District 66 and the citizens of Mississippi. I will always place the needs of my constituents first. I am going to the capitol as a citizen and not a politician. I am going to the capitol to put the needs of my community and state first. A Politician makes promises, a Statesman strategizes, I am a Statesman.

Kathryn Orey Perry

Defeated in September 22 special election

De'Keither A. Stamps

Advanced to October 13 runoff election
 
1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? I am a proud product and graduate of public schools. I am a supporter of public schools.
 
2. Do you agree that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) should be fully funded every year? If yes, what actions will you take to ensure full funding? If no, explain why. The MAEP is the funding mechanism for our state’s public schools. See https://tpcref.org/mississippi-adequate-education-program-maep/ for information. I believe the MAEP should be fully funded and that more investment should be made in public education. Mississippi’s public schools are funded amongst the lowest in the nation, which leads to poor outcomes for the students who attend them. As a lawmaker, I would vote to fully fund the MAEP and advocate for more investment in our public schools through resources and workforce training opportunities to help our students be more competitive.
 
3. What will you do to ensure state revenue that is sufficient to provide all of the services Mississippi’s citizens need to lead productive lives? We must promote economic growth in Mississippi to support the services that Mississippi needs to grow.
 
4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? Voucher programs are set up to benefit private schools and not the children, and causes taxpayers to pay twice- for voucher schools and public schools, while siphoning much needed dollars away from public schools. As a lawmaker, I will vote to oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools.
 
5. Do you agree that all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer dollars, including private voucher schools, should be accountable to taxpayers for the quality of education they provide, using the same accountability measures as public schools? I agree that all schools receiving taxpayer dollars should be accountable for the quality of education they provide. Private schools receiving taxpayer dollars should be held to the same standards as public schools, providing an annual report of school achievement.
 
6. Public schools serve the vast majority of Mississippi students with disabilities. Do you agree that special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year? (Special education has been underfunded by the state every year since 2008.) If yes, how will you accomplish full funding? If no, explain why. I agree that special education should be funded every year. The MAEP provides funding for special education services. I would vote to fully fund the MAEP. I would also vote to fund schools for the blind and deaf through K-12 budget line items. as a lawmaker, it is imperative that we fund schools that provide services to our most vulnerable children.
 
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? I agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide. High quality Pre- K has been shown to produce clear life long benefits in closing learning gaps, and enhancing literacy skills for children.
 
8. The nation’s top teachers say that the greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students are family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems. What steps do you believe legislators should take to alleviate these obstacles for Mississippi children? Mississippi has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, and many of our students bring these issues into the classroom everyday. As a legislator, fully funding the MAEP helps ensure that every school and every Mississippi child receives the resources necessary for student achievement. Another issue of concern is school districts with a low tax base , who are significantly worse off than than students from more affluent communities who can supplement their state funding. As a lawmaker, these issues of inequities within the system of education can be addressed through fully funding the MAEP.
 
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? I definitely support raising teacher and assistant teacher salaries to the Southeastern average. We must make teaching more attractive to deal with the critical teacher shortage we have in the state.
 
10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? I agree that retired teachers and other retired state employees should be able to serve in the legislature and still be able to draw their retirement.
 
11. Legislators have little or no staff to help them understand the many bills they must consider. Before introducing or supporting a bill that could affect public education, will you commit to seeking input from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents of public school students in your district? Who will be advising you on education policies? I have a strong connection with the schools, parents, principals, and superintendents within my district and will seek their input before supporting or introducing a bill that affects public education. I would form an education advisory group comprising of parents, administrators, teachers, and superintendents to consult with on education issues.
 
12. In the past, legislators have received tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that could contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How would you respond to such pressure? I am a representative of the people and will always vote in the best interest of the community, citizens of HD 66, and the people of this state.

Calvin Williams

Defeated in September 22 special election

1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? I’m a graduate of Hinds County Agricultural High School, actually a product of the Mississippi public school system. I have worked as a substitute teacher in the Hinds County School System.

2. Do you agree that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) should be fully funded every year? If yes, what actions will you take to ensure full funding? If no, explain why. The MAEP is the funding mechanism for our state’s public schools. See https://tpcref.org/mississippi-adequate-education-program-maep/ for information.  Yes, I support MAEP because this program has never been fully funded. I understand that no one person can do anything alone. I will work with my colleagues in the legislature to secure their support, regardless of political affiliation, to ensure that public educators and public schools will receive the funding that they have been promised.

3. What will you do to ensure state revenue that is sufficient to provide all of the services Mississippi’s citizens need to lead productive lives? I would reevaluate how the revenue collected is disbursed and work to ensure that a plan is in place to equitably disburse the monies already collected to the agencies that need it the most.

4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? Yes, I oppose vouchers as the program is currently implemented. If the funding that follows the student TO the private school would come back when the student LEFT the private school, then I might be in support of that. The voucher system must be fully utilized. Meaning if a student leaves a private school and returns back to a public school that funding for that student would follow the student back to that public school.

5. Do you agree that all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer dollars, including private voucher schools, should be accountable to taxpayers for the quality of education they provide, using the same accountability measures as public schools? Yes,I do agree that all schools receiving taxpayers’ money should be held accountable and held to the same standard as the other. Teachers should be state certified in private schools like they are in public schools. They should be required to pass the same testing as a public school teacher. Students in private schools should be required to pass the same state tests that public school students are if they are going to receive tax dollars from local, state, and federal government.

6. Public schools serve the vast majority of Mississippi students with disabilities. Do you agree that special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year? (Special education has been underfunded by the state every year since 2008.) If yes, how will you accomplish full funding? If no, explain why. Yes, I do agree that special education needs to be fully funded. There’s not a need for increasing taxing when the money already being allocated is not being disbursed equitably to the programs that most need the funding.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes, of course I do. In order for our students to get a jump on their education they need to have access to high quality early childhood opportunities. Our pre and kindergarten students need that boost to be more successful in their k-12 years.

8. The nation’s top teachers say that the greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students are family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems. What steps do you believe legislators should take to alleviate these obstacles for Mississippi children? Legislators should be aware of, and work toward, mitigating the stresses of family by making sure that funding is provided to agencies that give support to family stress, poverty, learning and psychological problems. The legislature can provide adequate funds to agencies that do support these stressors so that we can reach the population who may be most affected. E.g. Department of Human Services.

9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes, because it is unheard of that our teachers, and our assistant teachers, receive such low pay. Some of them do not earn a living wage. We are expecting the people who provide opportunities for our children to not have opportunities themselves. These individuals have families just like we do. The quality of work that they provide for our students should not be negatively impacted by a low salary. These teachers even use their salaries to supplement their meager supply budgets to provide supplies for students. Yes, they need to at least reach the midpoint for the Southeast region because we are losing some of our best teachers to the neighboring states because these states are offering higher salaries than we are. Not saying that they have better schools, but they are offering them more financial opportunities.

10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? Yes, I do agree that retired educators should be able to keep their retirement while serving in the Legislature. If we have retired educators or individuals who have been in the education system we can have policies written that would be the most beneficial to our schools across the state.

11. Legislators have little or no staff to help them understand the many bills they must consider. Before introducing or supporting a bill that could affect public education, will you commit to seeking input from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents of public school students in your district? Who will be advising you on education policies? I will have a focus group pulling from areas of education k-12 and higher ed to keep me abreast on issues that are at the forefront of these groups. I will meet with the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE), the Association of Federated Teachers (AFT), and other groups that are in place so I can get input from them on the issues that are most important.

12. In the past, legislators have received tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that could contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How would you respond to such pressure? I’m indebted to the people that put me in office and it is my responsibility to make sure that I represent you to the best of my ability. I’m not here to represent special interests through lobbying.