Q. Many leaders say they want the focus of the 2013 session to be education, specifically such issues as charter schools and accountability. How do you think education should be approached during the 2013 session?
A. By definition, charter schools take certain children out of the existing public schools, leaving others behind. If charter school children create problems, they are returned to the public school. We don’t need to establish a dual system of public schools. Some states have charter schools run by an organization from Turkey. That’s troubling.
I support any reasonable proposal for flexibility at any school district. Some educators propose longer school days, longer school years, and different methods of teaching and testing. I’m willing – and I think most legislators are willing – to allow any school district as much flexibility as it needs.
Q. Many leaders also are talking about possibly changing the MAEP. Do you see any need for changes?
A. For years, the Legislature has failed to fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Unfortunately, former Gov. Haley Barbour fought education funding his entire time in office. As a result, school districts have inadequate funds, the state has hundreds fewer teachers than it needs and students have suffered.
The first step is to follow the law and fund the program. The proposal to reach full funding in two years has merit, and I support it.
I hear that some legislators want to change the formula to reduce the amount of state funds used to support our public schools. I don’t know what they are up to, and I’m greatly concerned.
Q. What is your view of the state of education in Mississippi? Has it improved or regressed in recent years and are there any issues that should be dealt with that we are not addressing?
A. Students need to learn basic facts, and they need to learn to think and reason. It’s difficult to teach critical thinking skills, but it’s essential to do so. Computers and the Internet provide additional options, and we need to use them. However, we can’t expect to educate children unless we can attract, retain and empower good teachers.