House of Representatives District 96: 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 have been a tutor for various subjects in mathematics since 2007. Starting off as a tutor at the University of Kentucky, I discovered I had a love for teaching. While in law school, I became employed in the East Baton Rouge parish school system preparing high school students for their state tests. Since 2012, I have tutored on a strictly pro bono basis in an effort to help those children who cannot afford tutoring. I have partnered with several organizations and churches in the Natchez area to help when and where I can. I spend at least 2 days a week tutoring anywhere from 2 to 10 children from low income neighborhoods. The ages vary from age 8 to age 18. Additionally, my non-profit organization has donated school supplies to local children and teenagers in my area for the last two years. We ended up donating about 7,000 school supplies and backpacks to more than 500 people, particularly those children that have already been disenfranchised by the public school system due to their inability to afford school supplies.
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 will introduce legislation to increase funds to 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? I will fight for more jobs, and skills training in local high schools. Vocational schools provide students with an alternative that helps society. Skilled workers are few and far between these days. By creating a new generation of workers, we add revenue to our communities.
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 would oppose vouchers to private, religious, home or virtual schools. These schools take away funds from already underfunded public schools. They also tend to drain the nutrients from the local public schools without getting any of the fat.
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. You accomplish full funding by decreasing money sent to private prisons. I would also look at taxing casinos at a higher rate and using that money all over the state rather than to particular school districts.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes, I do. Please see answer to the next question.
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? Studies show that performance gaps start early in children and they often start prior to the child entering kindergarten. Fully funded public pre-school programs would help close the performance gap. Children from lower socioeconomic status tend to perform at a much lower level than those from a higher socioeconomic status when entering kindergarten. Often this performance gap continues to grow as the children move further along in school. Another necessary policy would be equitable funding to public schools in Mississippi. A major reason for the performance gap is that schools often filled with minorities, particularly black students, tend to be schools located in low income areas. These schools are often underfunded and are not in need of equal funding but in need of equity. These children often lack the basic resources necessary to function properly at school, such as proper nourishment, adequate support at home, and access to computers/technology. Additional funding to school districts in lower income areas would allow for school programs meant to tackle these issues. While, schools located in white areas tend to have higher performing students who have access to these basic necessities. Proper funding could provide for true equity among all students and make a drastic difference in the performance gap.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes. I would offer legislation that provides competitive salaries as well as set raises to teachers over certain time periods. I would suggest creating programs to offer incentives to potential teachers as well as current ones. These could include paying moving costs, offering cost of living stipends, incentives for them pursuing higher education degrees, and loan forgiveness plans where the state matches their contribution.
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. If someone has invested and earned their retirement I do not believe they should be penalized by choosing to serve as a public servant. However, I would not be opposed to possible deductions to their benefits during session.
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 be seeking input from local educators. I have built a great relationship with local teachers, administrators and superintendents here in my town as well as tons of retired teachers whose opinions are of value on education policies. My grandmother, who I consult on most issues, is a retired educator. Additionally, one of my closest friends is an educator in Louisiana, whom I often consult on different education matters.
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 a public servant I believe that it is my job to represent the will of the people I serve above all else. I have never been one to cave to pressure, public or otherwise.