Senate District 9: 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 parents were public school teachers, I am a graduate of Oxford High School, and my children were both educated in the Oxford school system. I served on a number of committees for the Mississippi Department of Education including chairing the Mississippi Special Education Advisory Committee. I have served on the Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee and co-chaired that committee. I served as the co-chair for the state autism task force. In my children’s schools I was actively involved in the PTO serving and chairing a number of committees from teacher appreciation, clothes closets to playground fundraising etc. Additionally, I volunteer when called upon to help with everything from proctoring tests to helping in special cases with advocating for children, In the Lafayette County schools, my husband is an active volunteer and contributor with the athletic programs. I served as an adjunct university professor teaching special education laws in one of our state’s teacher training programs. I still provide assistance to teachers and families when called on questions with special education law.
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 remember working in the Mississippi Attorney General’s office when MAEP was passed and we discussed the bill in great detail in a staff meeting with General Moore. There was such optimism! Sadly, our state has failed to fully fund MAEP most years. Yes, I agree that MAEP should be fully funded each year! To adequately do this we are going to have to make sure that there is transparency for ALL expenditures in the state’s budget. For example, the report detailing the use of state funds for Weight Watchers for school teachers was shocking. Some of the most shocked were members of the Legislature that did not know that was ever in the budget that they had voted to approve. I am committed to fully investigating all aspects of the state revenue and budgeting process so that we can achieve full funding. Having worked in the Attorney General’s office where I helped pass and monitor legislation, I have the skills to immediately begin work on making sure that our budgeting process is transparent. I believe that when we look at this process we will have find avenues to maximize funding for 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? In the long term to increase state revenue we need to increase the number of citizens with higher paying jobs. This increase will only happen if we have a skilled and trained workforce. A skilled and trained workforce is the result of a strong education system. In the short term, as I noted above, I will be searching for aspects of our state budget that can be re-appropriated to serve our citizens better.
4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? I have closely watched the debate and the results of vouchers for years. In my senate district vouchers would be devastating for two of my school districts. I will oppose vouchers! I am greatly disturbed and upset over how this special needs voucher process has been managed in Mississippi. It is apparent that there was never any real intent to provide evaluation and data on the results or the lack thereof. Once again it appears that special needs have been used for political purposes.
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? ALL taxpayer dollars need to have the same accountability measures! The system in place on these vouchers has NO accountability.
6. Public schools serve the vast majority of Mississippi students with disabilities. Do you agree that public school special education services should be fully funded every year? (Special education has been underfunded by the state annually since 2008.) If yes, how will you accomplish full funding? If no, explain why. Having studied and advocated on this for a number of years, I would be remiss if I did not point out that one of the major problems is that the federal government did not ever fully fund IDEA. I think that all of us need to remind our congressional representation that we need full IDEA funding. This is something I do regularly. I would like to see the Legislature take a more formal approach to encouraging our congressional delegation to make full IDEA funding a priority.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high-quality early childhood education statewide? Yes, I am a huge proponent of early childhood education and served on a task force with the Governor on this. I am a great fan of the work of University of Chicago economics professor, James Heckman. Heckman’s long term studies show that not only does early childhood education affect the student receiving the education but it affects how the student later parents and teaches their own children I see early childhood education as one of the ways that we can help break the circle of poverty in the state and immediately decrease the learning gap as our children enter kindergarten.
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? As I indicated earlier, we need to look at what is happening with the child before K if we are to address these matters. Thus, we need to provide early childhood education if we are to begin the truly tackle these matters. Having worked in special education advocacy for years I see these barriers for all children. However, we do not have services where we comprehensively address these issues. Many programs are actually funded that should help diminish these issues but there are enormous gaps between state agencies. The barriers and the solutions to these problems need to be addressed by numerous professionals in our state agencies and state professional organizations. The Legislature should call for a comprehensive task force to develop a plan complete with goals, objectives, data, best practices, etc. that will comprehensively address these matters. This plan would provide the Legislature a road map to develop funding priorities, could assist with the collaboration of agencies and could set the parameters of future legislation that should include the reporting of outcome data. Calling for a study of all of these issues would be a good start.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes.
10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their state retirement while serving in the Legislature? Yes.
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 have already assembled a team of parents, administrators, classroom teachers, educational experts, psychologist, etc. that I am using to determine positions on various education issues including (but not limited to) testing, literacy, and school improvement. I am fortunate to have some excellent superintendents, administrators, and teachers who are always willing to give their advice.
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? Having worked in state government and watched my father when he served in the Legislature I know the pressure you are referring to. However, after watching for many years people go through this I can say at the end of the day the best legislators vote for their constituents. Working and volunteering on many community and state programs I have already been through many of these situations. I can proudly say that I have always done what I feel is right. At the time it was sometimes very lonely. However, I have the good fortune of seeing that the “right decision” always pays off in the end. One of those people I stood up to on a matter was one of the first people to reach out and help me on my campaign.
1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family? My wife and I are both graduates of public school systems. Our two boys, ages 3 and 2, will attend Lafayette County Public Schools. My mother was a public school teacher and before attending law school I received my Bachelor of Music Education. While earning my degree I spent many hours observing public school classrooms and student teaching. I am certain that my public school education, and in particular my teachers, laid the foundation for my successes later in life.
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. But it’s not just my position. More than 30% of Mississippi corporations and LLC’s cite “educated workforce” as the factor most important to their business, far ahead of both “state/local government incentives” at less than 5% and “state tax structure” at less than 7%. See, Y’all Business Survey, November 2017, Mississippi Secretary of State.
Businesses themselves overwhelmingly indicate that the state should focus on the allocation of resources necessary to create and sustain an educated workforce. Public schools are the answer. The legislature must work to grow and sustain an economy which allows Mississippi businesses to remain competitive while also meeting their needs – to do so requires fully funding 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? The most critical issue facing Lafayette County in 2016 when my term as Supervisor began was how to responsibly manage our rapid growth. We needed a plan. We immediately got to work and held more than 40 public meetings where we discussed the history of our community, the positives and negatives we were experiencing due to growth, and the shared vision we had for our future success. While there were certainly disagreements along the way, this process of open engagement created the consensus necessary to craft a long-range plan focused on a secure future for everyone.
I helped guide the process of updating Lafayette County’s Comprehensive Plan as Chair of the Steering Committee. I also serve as the Board’s representative to the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. The Plan, which establishes a long-term vision for the future of Lafayette County, was adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in November 2017. The process leading to its adoption was a model of effective community leadership.
Counties and cities rely on the State to be a committed, dependable partner as we seek positive solutions to challenges and make important decisions impacting residents. We expect State leadership to proactively enact policies designed to build and sustain successful communities. Certainly we can all agree there is room for improvement in Mississippi.
I will use my experience planning for sustained economic success at the local level to advocate for a long-range plan for Mississippi, one designed to grow and sustain state revenue so that all residents of Mississippi have the opportunity to thrive.
4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? Yes. Successful communities are knit together by shared values and common social bonds. Public schools play a vital role in the creation and maintenance of these foundational elements of successful communities. The diversion of public resources to private institutions undermines the success of public schools and the communities they serve.
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. As a local government official, I know from experience that when public dollars are allocated, accountability standards are necessary.
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. The question asks “how will you accomplish full funding.” The short answer is that no legislator alone can accomplish anything – working together is required in a system where more than one vote is needed for passage of legislation. However, I can say from a position of experience that budgeting reflects the priorities of those making the budget decisions. I believe that Mississippi must prioritize education, including special education, for our state to be successful in the long-term and I have learned firsthand how to impact priorities during budget negotiations.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes. Enhancing opportunities for children in their earliest years is critical to the economic success of our state. Investment in quality early childhood programs not only measurably improves achievement, but also long-term health, work-force readiness and earning potential. Moreover, the rate of return is significant – from 7% up to 13.8%. I have both advocated for and supported early childhood education opportunities and initiatives as Supervisor.
In April of 2017, I supported an interlocal agreement between the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, City of Oxford, Lafayette County School District and Oxford School District to create and fund the Early Childhood and Reading Development Partnership. This community-wide commitment has already shown promising results in Lafayette County, where kindergarten readiness scores have measurably increased.
On August 2nd, 2018, I moderated a community discussion centered on early childhood education challenges and opportunities. Panelists included Cathy Grace of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning, Michael Cormack Jr., of the Barksdale Reading Institute, and Tamara Hillmer, LOU Reads Coalition and Director of the Oxford and Lafayette County Early Childhood and Reading Development Partnership.
In fall 2018, I supported the Early Childhood and Reading Development Partnership as it sought funding for an Early Learning Collaborative. In December, the Partnership received more than $2 million in grant funding, an investment that will expand access to quality early childhood programs over the next three years and pay a long-term dividend for our community.
I will continue to pursue these opportunities for all of Mississippi’s children from a position in the Senate.
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? In my community we are tackling similar issues every day by focusing on enhancing the quality of life of all residents. Counties and cities, and their school systems, are in the best position to address these issues. The legislature can and should focus the majority of its time and attention on policies that encourage and nurture the success of local communities.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes.
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.
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 continue to work with our local leaders in education (including administrators, teachers, and parents) as I have while serving as Supervisor.
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 don’t respond well to political pressure, I respond instead to innovative ideas, a variety of perspectives, and facts. My years of public service combined with the diversity of those roles (serving local governments, my church, and numerous other community groups) have given me a clear sense of the needs of my community. No lobbyist or political leader will have a better understanding of those needs.