Candidate Q&A: Senate District 15

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 Bart Williams and Joyce Meek Yates. Search for candidates’ responses below.

Bricklee Miller   ●   Levon Murphy, Jr.    ●   Bart Williams (RUNOFF)  ●    Joyce Meek Yates (RUNOFF)

Bricklee Miller

Defeated in September 22 special election

Levon Murphy, Jr.

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 product of public school education. Unlike most people, I’ve seen both sides. I attended a private school for a year. My children will attend public school. I have one that’s a first grader now.

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, it absolutely should. There’s a relation between being fully funded and achievement. In 2008, which is the last time MAEP was fully funded, fourth graders had the highest reading level in the nation. I will vote in favor of fully funding MAEP every time.

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? That’s where economic development comes in. Here in Choctaw County there’s an agreement where the coal mine gives our school system a certain amount of dollars yearly and that helps a lot.

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 will oppose. Those tax dollars would be taken away from the public schools which are already under funded.

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, they should be held accountable. If private voucher schools are getting tax payer dollars they should be held to the same standards as public schools.

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, we must take care of the special needs kids.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. Starting them early is beneficial to them and their mental development. Children that attend pre-kindergarten have higher cognitive test scores from toddler age up to 21 years of age.

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? Family stresses are kind of out of the legislators’ control. As far as poverty and learning and psychological problems, we need to make sure we continue to bring business in creating jobs. We must make sure we fully fund special education services to aid our students with learning and psychological problems.

9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes, we are currently 50th out of 50 states in teacher salary. That has to change.

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. The career they choose should not ban them from being able to serve their communities.

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 know a number of teachers and retired teachers that I could go to for advice.

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? If elected my job is to vote on behalf of the people in my district, not the party leaders or lobbyists. 

Bart Williams

Advanced to runoff election October 13

Joyce Meek Yates

Advanced to runoff election October 13
 
1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? My family and I all attended public schools in District 15. I have over 30 years of experience as an educator. During my career, I worked with public schools to help with grant-writing and also led workshops and presented at conferences for Mississippi public schools. I believe that students should not only be taught academically at school but also be loved. Education is the great equalizer, and the Legislature must support our public schools and teachers.
 
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 agree that MAEP should be fully funded every year. I would investigate past failures of the system to figure out why the funding has been a challenge. If it’s because of priority spending, we might need to shift from things of lesser importance to ensure MAEP is fully funded.
 
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? Mississippi spends roughly 35% of its budget on education. We need experienced educators to ensure that this money is spent efficiently, effectively, and with accountability. Additionally, we need to make sure students have access to adequate resources and have a safe and secure place to live, work, and play which ultimately leads to 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. Depending on the circumstances, there could be possible exceptions (i.e., a special needs child whose needs cannot be met by their local school district).
 
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.
 
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. All students deserve to learn in environments that best fit them. Priority spending is one way to ensure the most important aspects of education are receiving adequate funding in the most efficient and accountable ways.
 
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes.
 
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? Adequate access/funding to mental health resources. We need to provide resources for kids who are struggling outside of the classroom. It’s hard to expect a student to come to school and learn despite what he/she has to experience at home due to stress, family problems, poverty, etc.
 
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes.
 
10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? No.
 
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? One of the things I’ll do, if elected, is form task forces made up of people from District 15. I’d have one for education that includes teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, etc. I’m not currently in the classroom, so it’s important to me that the people heavily involved with our education system are making their opinions/voices heard. They’re the experts; I’m their advocate.
 
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? My goal is to serve the people of District 15. I don’t have an agenda of any sort—I just want to do what’s best for the area I’ve lived in all my life. Pressure from leaders will not sway my beliefs, and I will always vote to best address the needs of District 15.