House of Representatives District 12: 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? I am public school educated from first grade through juris doctor. My single mother was a life-long public school teacher, and my son Rhex has been public school educated from pre-K through this his rising 8th grade year. I am active in my son’s school, whether it be football games or state test proctoring.
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. Absolutely. I will make it a priority. First, I will not vote for any voucher or charter school — that money must be utilized to fund our already underfunded public schools. Second, I will do everything to educate the public and lawmakers on the money being funneled out of this state on unnecessary, excessive testing, money which can be used to fund the MAEP.
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? It is not a question of whether Mississippi has sufficient revenue — the real question is where do our priorities lie? Mississippi has the money. We simply need to ensure that we make the right decisions that are in the best interests of all Mississippians.
4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? Yes. It is intellectually dishonest for lawmakers to say that there is not enough money to fund public education and then allow money to stream elsewhere. Public schools are the bedrock and the backbone of a state.
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, otherwise we as a state are actually providing them incentives to privatize, which — again — cannot happen in a state with an underfunded public school system.
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, it should and can be done. Again, it is all about priorities. We must make special education a priority, we must stop channeling money into the private arena, and we certainly can take money wasted on state testing above and beyond federal requirements and apply it to our students with disabilities.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. Fiscally, one early education study found that the government actually saves 63 Cents for every penny spent on early education. Education wise, we need to do everything feasible to provide our children with the necessary tools for life success, and we know that the earlier is the better when it comes to shaping young minds.
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? We all wish there were a simple, succinct answer to this question. I believe that the legislature’s greatest power in alleviating these obvious problems lies within the education forum. Were we to place appropriate focus in the early child care arena, the state would be able to get children in their younger, more malleable years to the aid and assistance of those properly trained to aid children with learning and psychological problems. Additionally, prioritizing entities such as, for example, Families First over a Weight Watchers program seems a likewise obvious solution. I cannot stress enough that the problem we face now is one of prioritizing.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Absolutely. We can at least pay our teachers at the southeastern average. The teacher shortage will continue until we pay teachers and assistant teachers wages on which they can actually live without resorting to second jobs.
10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? Absolutely.
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 be entirely active with my local schools, educators, administrators and parents. I intend to hold an annual meeting so that we have a full, open, and ongoing dialogue of positives, negatives, needs, concerns, and wants.
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 enjoy a well-deserved reputation for not taking the easy road as a lawyer. I do what is right. Other leaders, parties and lobbyists are not the people to whom I answer. I will vote my constituents every time.