Senate District 52: 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 children have attended Pascagoula-Gautier School District schools since the beginning and currently attend Pascagoula High School. My mother was a 30+ year teacher and recently retired from Resurrection Catholic School where she was the librarian for a decade plus and a teacher. She started her teaching career in the public schools in Little Rock, AR. My parents and siblings are products of public schools. My aunt has been a special ed teacher in Texas for decades. Close friends who are teachers and principals keep me informed on education issues. My daughter is in the state honor choir and my son plays on the school soccer and tennis teams. I have the pleasure of representing Ocean Springs School District, Pascagoula-Gautier School District, Resurrection Catholic School, home schooling parents; all are great.
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. Unlike Congress, Mississippi is required to have a balanced budget each year. Serving as an Appropriation Committee member for eight years and having handled the Medicaid budget (the biggest single budget item in the state) for the last four, I am well aware of the budget in the state and constraints. The budget is very dependent on the revenues coming in and national factors, such as recession, which occurred in 2008 and we only got out of two years ago. Education funding throughout the state is more than just MAEP. For Example, board certified teachers, gifted, school nurses and the Early Learning Collaboratives are funded outside MAEP, very worthwhile programs with high ROI. The actual MAEP formula is an antiquated formula developed over 25 years ago when things were different. Science and data have changed. We need an updated formula that accounts for ALL CHILDREN in Mississippi, not just districts and a formula that focuses on the right things. For example, the current formula DOES NOT allow for payment of early education, yet early education is one of the best returns on investments we can see. Likewise, this formula makes Mississippi one of only a few states TO NOT fund ELL population, meaning those children suffer. Even with all this, MAEP has still been the top funded budget item in the state to the tune of over $2.5 billion on a $5 billion budget. So, as the budget allows, yes, funding of MAEP should be at its highest level.
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? Though this is a broad question leaving room for many different answers, will continue to promote and vote for policies that promote a great business climate, including lower taxes and less regulation along with continuing to advocate for the Early Learning Collaboratives which place Mississippi in Top 5 in early education nationwide. It would help if advocates and all stakeholders got out of their own silos and promoted what is best for the whole state rather than just their own interest.
4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not? I support public schools (see answers above). Generalizing, if people were satisfied with the overall product being delivered by public schools then there would not be a push for vouchers or other mechanisms to change a system that has been in place for a century. I will judge any such bill on its own merits without preconceived notions like I do for all legislation that comes to a vote or that I work on.
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? Accountability and transparency should always be the case. What that looks like is a case-by-case basis depending on the program, whether it’s schools or something else. For example, I am the author of the DMR Accountability and Transparency Act.
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. As of a few years ago, the graduation rate of Special Ed students in public schools hovered around 20-30%. That is unacceptable whether it is public, private or a combination. The data point is not directly related to the amount or lack thereof of funding. There needs to be a better effort all around to improve and teach special education students.
7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide? Yes! The Early Learning Collaboratives, the legislation I authored and has since received national recognition, put us in the Top 5 in the country. I would like to see it part of the school funding formula which it currently is not, which is a reason to update the formula.
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? See my work as chairman of the Medicaid Committee, my work on the Early Learning Collaboratives as well as my whole legislative body of work.
9. Do you support raising teacher salaries at least to the level of our neighboring states and raising pay for teacher assistants? Yes, within the bounds of the state budget as determined by the revenue coming in, the work of the Legislative Budget Office and taking into consideration the other ways teachers can achieve higher salaries and increased benefits. I have voted for every pay raise for teachers since being in office. Teachers deserve to be paid appropriately just like law enforcement and other state workers.
10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature? Currently, to my knowledge, the law does not prevent this. The prohibition was one decided by the PERS board, not a law passed by the 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 have always done this. When I introduce a bill, I will have talked to many of the stakeholders beforehand and/or during the legislative process. The legislative process is designed to get input from as many people as possible. A bill very rarely ends up as it started. The same people need to be actively engaged in talking to legislators during the session through meetings, etc., and not just sending out tweets and posting to Facebook.
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? My record speaks for itself. This isn’t the only pressure that exists on legislators. The effective legislators know how to balance all of such pressures. It comes with the job. Also, any legislator is subject to re-election every four years and if they “vote in ways that may contradict” their constituents, then they can be held accountable at election time; why we have elections.