By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Candidates vying for the District 6 state Senate seat were forced to answer several questions about education Friday during their second debate this week.
The event was held at the Summit Center and sponsored by Tupelo’s Kiwanis Club, whose members submitted several questions to the candidates. Three of the five questions they answered were about education.
As was the case during the first debate Tuesday, the candidates’ viewpoints were very similar and were distinguished more by nuance than substance.
Five of the six office-seekers were present Friday. Ward 6 Tupelo City Councilman and insurance salesman Mike Bryan could not attend because of a family illness.
The candidates will square off in Tuesday’s special election to fill the seat that was vacated by Alan Nunnelee, who was sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives this week.
Candidates were asked whether the Mississippi Adequate Education Program should be fully funded, what they saw as the biggest priority for public education and whether they supported optional sex education that teaches more than abstinence only.
Mississippi’s Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, uses a formula to determine how much funding each school district should receive from the state.
Ward 5 Tupelo City Councilman Jonny Davis called full funding for MAEP the biggest priority for public education. He said that he has often lobbied in Jackson for it.
“I think it is a solid formula,” he said. “We shouldn’t just throw money at education but this is a good formula.”
Doug Wright, an attorney and business owner from Saltillo, said the key to funding schools and other services is to increase revenue by revitalizing the economy. He touted himself as the business candidate.
Wright said he likes the MAEP formula but added that it probably does not deliver enough money directly to the classroom. He also spoke about the importance of dropout prevention and the need for more control in the classroom.
“It needs to be an environment where teachers can teach and children can learn,” he said.
Davis and Nancy Adams Collins also called for the state to create an early childhood education program. Mississippi is the only state without a state-funded pre-kindergarten.
Collins, a registered nurse and medical director of the Parkgate Pregnancy Clinic, also advocated for work force programs in schools.
“I want to see administrators listen to the teachers on the front lines,” she said. “If we listen to teachers and empower them to have a voice we can work more effectively.”
All five candidates said they would find money to keep the North Mississippi State Hospital open, although they offered different plans for doing that.
South Pontotoc High School teacher Stacy Scott said money could be found for education, the North Mississippi State Hospital and other areas by cutting what he said are “wants” rather than “needs.”
Scott said the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science is “a want,” and also said that the salaries for Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds, community college presidents and others are too high.
“We need to cut back all those hidden salaries,” he said.
Melony Armstrong, owner of a hairstyling salon, said money could be saved for the state hospital by reforming welfare. Armstrong said that she came from the ghetto and that she sees a lot of abuse when it comes to government money.
She also said she would “not cut funding” to education and “listen to teachers to understand and feel what they experience in the classroom.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.