House of Representatives District 122: 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 graduated from a public high school and taught at public high schools. My daughters graduated from a public high school. My son attended a public elementary 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. Yes, I agree that MAEP should be fully funded each and every year. I will stand with teachers, educators and parents demanding that the MAEP is fully funded. The MAEP is a law that was passed in 1997 that explicitly requires the legislature to provide funding to our public schools. However, the school districts have only been fully funded in 2004 and 2008. Investing in our schools is an investment in our state’s future.
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? Everyone needs affordable and accessible healthcare and quality jobs that provide an actual living wage. It is critical to provide students and our workforce opportunities to upgrade skills or learn new skills as technology changes. Fully funding technical education programs in high schools and community colleges will provide Mississippi with a more skilled workforce. These are issues that deserve time, attention and adequate funding. Many legislators prefer to funnel state revenue into insider deals, pet projects and huge tax giveaways to out-of-state corporations. I pledge to speak out against wasteful spending and to advocate for funding for the services that Mississippi families truly need.
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 vouchers until all of our public schools are fully funded each year.
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. Before we hand over our hard-earned taxpayer money to private schools, we need to ensure that those schools have the same oversight, performance standards and accountability standards that our public schools are required to meet.
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 special education services in public schools should be fully funded every year. Calling out wasteful earmarks for pet projects and shining a light on insider deals are a couple of ways that I will use my elected position to fight
for educational funding to be all inclusive.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. Approximately two-thirds of kindergarteners in Mississippi fail the kindergarten readiness exam while those who attended an early learning program scored above the readiness benchmark, on average. This is why I support a statewide pre-kindergarten program for Mississippi four-year-olds.
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 have the power to do something about this now, but they are too busy playing partisan games by refusing to accept federal dollars to expand affordable healthcare throughout the state.
Do you really want to live in place that doesn’t have mental health clinics available?
Just this month, the State Department of Mental Health had to step in to save the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center from closing because it announced that it would run out of funds after August 11th. That’s four counties that would have suffered from a lack of access to critical mental health services.
Therefore, step one should be to accept federal funding to expand healthcare to all Mississippians so that hospitals and mental health facilities can afford to remain open.
Another important step to reduce the effect of poverty on K-12 students is to ensure that students have access to healthy meals throughout the school day. I would advocate for an increase in funding for reduced-fee or no-fee lunch so children are never hungry at school.
Underfunding special education progams is detrimental to the success of special needs students. I support fully funding special education in our public schools.
To move a family out of poverty working adults need better paying jobs. Technical training programs were once in almost every high school in Mississippi. Those programs led to higher paying jobs opportunities for students that were not going to a 4 year college. I will be passionate about bringing back and expanding technical programs that we need in our high schools and community colleges.
Workforce skills are needed for the good paying jobs that are currently available and having a skilled workforce ready will be attractive to companies looking to locate their business in the area.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes, I support raising teacher salaries to the level of our neighboring states. In 2017-2018 the average starting teacher salary in Alabama was $38,490, Louisiana $40,303 and Tennessee $37, 305 and in Mississippi the average starting salary was $34,784. The Southeastern average starting salary is $36,600. We are getting close. Why wouldn’t we choose to be competitive in paying our teachers?
The teacher shortage in Mississippi is a real crisis and I believe the lower salaries contribute to this problem. Mississippi ranks 49th in the nation in average teacher salary. We have to raise starting salaries to encourage students to consider a career in education or to attract qualified teachers from other states. One way to do that is by making teacher pay competitive with other southeastern states. Therefore, I support raising the teacher pay to at least the Southeastern average.
Another way to increase the number of teachers in this state is by offering a loan forgiveness program that forgives a certain amount of college loans in exchange for a certain number of years teaching in the public school system.
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 agree that retired educators and other retires state employees should be able to draw their retirement whild serving in the Legislature. I agree with the Attorney General’s recent opinion on the matter. According to Jim Hood, “PERS voted to draft a new rule allowing state retirees who serve in the legislature to do so without giving up their penison. This will be in place by Janruary 2020. We need the knowledge and experience of our state retirees in the Mississippi Legislature!”
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 commit to seeking input from teachers, principals, superintendents and parents of public school students in my district. I will seek advice from the teachers professional organizations including the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) and the Mississippi Association of Career Technology Educators (MS ACTE).
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? Thanks to the hard work of the Clarion Ledger’s investigative team, we now know about the rampant corruption between education lobbyists and legislators in Jackson. The investigation uncovered millions of dollars in earmarks for a select few education vendors, campaign contributions from lobbyists representing those vendors, and a culture of allowing vendors to bypass the bidding process that was normally required for state agencies to select the best provider for the least amount of money.
To combat this corruption happening at the expense of our children, I will ask to be appointed to the Performance Based Budgeting Committee that has been dormant since 2017. It was a data-driven approach to making sure the state’s limited resources were spent on programs that would have a positive impact on Mississippi schoolchildren.