Editor’s note: The League of Women Voters-East Central Mississippi posed the following education question to Senate District 33 candidates Bubby Johnston and Jeff Tate.  

Mississippi legislative action has supported charter schools and vouchers as a way of improving traditional public schools. Our state faces education problems across the board: the PEER Report reveals problems with the voucher program; the Mississippi Department of Education reports low rankings for charter schools; and, public schools face budget and teacher shortages. Ninety percent of Mississippi children attend public schools. What legislative actions will you support, especially for the 90 percent of children who attend public schools?

Jeff Tate: Public education is one of the most vital assets to our region, and it is changing. We must think outside the box when talking about solutions to the growing concern for public education. We must use every avenue possible to strengthen our public education system.

First and foremost, we must offer competitive pay for teachers based on teachers’ salaries in other states. If we want the best and brightest instructing the next generation, then we must incentivize highly qualified individuals to teach our children. Not only can we incentivize teachers through increased salaries, but we can also offer increased benefits as well. State benefit packages are the primary reason for employment for many teachers in Mississippi.

With education as a whole changing in this generation and college student loan debt becoming a growing concern, we must start offering different options for students. Recently, Mississippi lawmakers changed the graduation requirements for the class of 2022. The classes of 2022 and beyond will have the option of receiving a traditional diploma with the choice of an academic endorsement, career and technical endorsement, or distinguished endorsement. For the career and technical endorsement, students must complete a four-course sequential program of study in a field of their choice. I’d like to give those students more choices. 

Currently, the schools in district 33 can only offer a certain number of career and technical classes on campus. Many students are bussed miles away daily to a facility offering other programs, and only 2 students per school can participate in each program. 

I want our students to have more options. I’d like to see Lauderdale County School District receive its own CTE center where students have numerous opportunities.

Not only must we focus on enhancing our career and technical programs, but we must also focus on our students who are college bound. Currently, there are a few dual enrollment courses being offered to students on campus with a few more options available to students who have their own transportation to the community college. I will support any legislation that will bring more options for dual enrollment courses.

Along with our education system, our economy is changing as well. Students must be college or career ready when they graduate. 

Other states, such as Texas and Florida, have implemented collegiate high schools where students can work toward an AA degree while still in high school. Increased opportunities at the high school level will prepare students for the next level, save them money in the long run, and allow them to reinvest back into the economy after they graduate instead of paying back hefty student loans. 

We will create more jobs, lower the cost of postsecondary students, and increase tax revenue by implementing these changes. 

As a result, more money will fund education, and a cycle of increased tax revenue and increased funds for education will continue.

As a natural result of our workforce development plan in the secondary and postsecondary schools, our area will be increasingly better suited for new industries.

We should always be focused on increasing revenue because increasing tax revenue will always benefit the education system. In the legislature, I will fight to bring industry and small business jobs back to our area.  

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