House of Representatives District 117: 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.

General Election Candidates:   Kevin Felsher  WINNER  /   Inez Kelleher

 Kevin Felsher     WINNER


 Inez Kelleher

1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? As a military family, my children attended both public and private schools. My youngest son graduated from Biloxi High in 2001. In addition, my grandchildren either attend public school in Mississippi (Long Beach), or attended public school in St. Martin prior to moving from the state.

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. I agree that the MAEP should be funded to meet each of the law’s budgetary and statutory requirements. Wherever the program does not meet these requirements, I will work to ensure that they are fulfilled.

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? First, I will work to ensure that all state funding that is obligated to the MAEP program goes to that program (i.e., is not funneled into other programs). Second, I will work to ensure that all citizens and private corporations are paying their fair share toward the MAEP program. Third, I will encourage pursuing both private and public grant programs to continue improving our education programs. And fourth, I will review Mississippi tax revenue priorities to determine if some of that revenue would be better spent on educational initiatives.

4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? I am opposed to school vouchers as an open option for students for several reasons: (1) they potentially provide public funding to private schools. (2) current research does not support the argument that voucher programs significantly improve participant performance; (3) voucher programs can harm the public school system (e.g. MAEP) by funneling needed funding away; and (4) it is difficult to accurately quantify the success of a voucher program (per 2 – above), especially for home-schooled children. I am in support of the current Mississippi Education Scholarship Account (ESA) where special education programs do not exist in public 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? Yes. Unless private voucher schools and home-schoolers can be made fully accountable to taxpayers for the quality of education they provide, they should not qualify to accept voucher students.

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 believe that public school funding services should be fully operational relative to the budgetary mandates provided by existing law.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. It has been well demonstrated in the scientific literature and in practice that high-quality early childhood education provides an essential foundation to continued educational success from K through 12. This is one of the most reliable investments we can make for our 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? The legislative steps needed to alleviate these obstacles span nearly all of the social programs under the legislature’s purview, including correctional reform, minimum wage, medical insurance, social services, child and spousal abuse, single parent homes, poverty and social dispossession, and environmental health. Consequently, I will consider the implications of each bill on the social well-being of Mississippi families.

9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Our teachers certainly can better serve Mississippi’s children if they, themselves, are not suffering from low morale, family stress, poverty, and psychological problems due to inadequate compensation. I will seek strategic teacher pay legislation that considers both salary levels of our neighboring states, and successful programs that these (and other) states provide.

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 Mississippi legislature is a part-time organization that should welcome the experience and wisdom provided by retired educators. Just as retired industry and military individuals are able to draw their retirement while serving in the legislature, so should ALL retired state employees.

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? Yes. I will consider it essential to receive input and advice from the educational subject matter experts in my district.

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? I am seeking election as representative for District 117 to represent all of my constituents within the district. I have not, nor intend to accept political donations from organizations that may attempt to undermine my responsibilities to my constituents. As a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a physician who has devoted her carrier to serving the public, I find it unethical to place anything else first.

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