Attorney General: Candidate Q&A
Candidates for this office were offered a questionnaire on education issues by The Parents’ Campaign. See below for responses received to date.
1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? My family are products and supporters of public education. I graduated from Meridian High School in 1983. My sons have all attended and graduated from public schools. My eldest son is a graduate of Murrah High School. He taught in public schools in Louisville, Kentucky, Clinton, MS and is now an Assistant Principal in Jackson Public Schools. My middle son is a graduate of Clinton High School and taught English at Provine High School in JPS. My sister is a career educator in Meridian Public Schools. Support for public education is part of who we are as a family, in fact my maternal grandmother, Eula Burwell, helped to break ground for Carver Middle School in Meridian, MS.
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. Yes, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program should be fully funded each year. I think the State Legislature should aim higher than adequate as a goal for funding education in Mississippi. I believe that the State of Mississippi should make substantial investments in traditional public schools that educate the vast majority of Mississippi’s children. As Attorney General, I will make recommendation to utilize settlement funding received through the office for the improvement of the service of public education.
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? As Attorney General, I will make recommendation to utilize settlement funding received through the office for the improvement of the service of public education.
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 diverting taxpayer dollars away from public education. I believe public funding should support public schools. As Attorney General, I will work to implement systems to proactively monitor the use of the vouchers in private schools and hold them accountable.
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. There should be one standard. Charter schools should be held to the same safeguards and high standards of accountability, transparency and equity as public schools. In Mississippi, largely publicly funded charter schools are exempt from many of the requirements imposed by state and local boards of education regarding hiring and curriculum. Charter schools which drain funding from local public schools should be held accountable to taxpayers. As Attorney General, I will work to implement systems to proactively monitor charter schools and hold them accountable. I will hold charter programs that commit waste, fraud and abuse with taxpayer resources accountable for their actions.
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 agree that special education services should be fully funded every year. As Attorney General I would make recommendations to the Legislature on the utilization of settlement funds received through my office but will additionally ensure legislators fully understand the law and are maximizing the utilization of the IDEA Part B grants.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. Educational opportunity is a proven lever to break cycles of poverty.
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? The state’s legislators and executive branch must prioritize children and ensure that supports including safety net programs are available and access to same is not impeded by unconstitutional and discriminatory barriers.
Mississippi ranks highest in the nation for workers with proximity to the poverty level. It is important and in the best interest of the state that the State Legislature ensure economic opportunity is equitably accessible. As Attorney General, I would support the legislators by clarifying the law to ensure equal treatment under the law is afforded all Mississippians.
Every person should be afforded basic human needs. Mississippi legislators have proposed several bills which encroach on critical safety net programs which are necessary to meet these basic needs. As Attorney General, I would support responsible stewardship of safety net programs and ensure that laws are used to protect not to penalize being impoverished. I would always advise the state of its governmental duty toward its citizens.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes. Educators who have dedicated their lives to public service deserve fair and competitive compensation. Those who teach our children should not be forced to choose between leaving their families and communities of support to work in another state or working multiple jobs to provide for their families.
I have been a longtime advocate for increased support to ensure Mississippi students can access educational opportunities. I think the State Legislature should aim higher than “adequate” as a goal for funding education including teacher pay in Mississippi. As Attorney General, I will make recommendation to utilize settlement funding received through the office for the improvement of the service of public education.
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. Educators who have dedicated their lives to public service — teaching our children, protecting our families, serving the neglected, should be guaranteed a good and safe retirement.
A recent Attorney General’s Opinion found the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi regulation which prohibited state employees from running contradicted both state law and other PERS regulations. Since the opinion isn’t binding, it does stand until a court — or the Legislature — decides otherwise, as Attorney General I would make recommendation to the Legislature to codify this protection.
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 definitely commit to seeking advice from the expertise and experiential knowledge of educators. We must establish a practice of developing laws and policies that are informed by evidence based best practices.
12. Legislators receive tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that may contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How will you respond to this pressure? As Attorney General, I will represent the people of the State of Mississippi. I believe that the office of Attorney General can do much more to help uphold the rule of law in an uncertain political climate and provide crucial checks and balances on the federal administration which does not seem to positively prioritize marginalized and vulnerable communities including our children. I am seeking the Office of Attorney General to ensure that all Mississippians are protected under the law.
Mark Baker (defeated in primary)