Candidate Q&A: Governor

Election 2023

Our public education questionnaire is offered to candidates in statewide and legislative elections. Search for candidates’ questionnaire responses below.
Election dates: Primary – August 8, 2023, General – November 7, 2023

General Election Candidates:
Brandon Presley  •  Tate Reeves (Incumbent)

Gwendolyn Gray (withdrew from race)


David Grady Hardigree (defeated in primary)


Brandon Presley

1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family?
I put myself through community college and returned home, ran for mayor of my hometown and was elected at the age of 23. My mother taught pre-school and imparted the importance of education on me and my siblings. We did important work balancing the budget every year, cutting taxes twice, and getting Nettleton moving again. On the Public Service Commission, I held over 200 town halls in all parts of my district in North Mississippi – because I believe government serves best when it’s closest to the people. I got to talk to a lot of Mississippians when our office put on those town halls, and I heard from Mississippi parents who would drive their children to sit outside of a library or a McDonald’s to get access to the internet just to do their homework. From hearing their stories, I decided to take on big telecom companies who put profits over people and were refusing to bring internet service to the most rural parts of our state. I worked in a bipartisan way to expand high-speed internet to all parts of Mississippi and pass the historic Broadband Enabling Act. I know this was critical as students and teachers navigated new educational challenges during the pandemic.

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, I agree MAEP should be fully funded. I believe that Mississippi students deserve a world-class education, and that starts with fully funding public education and making sure that every classroom is safe and clean and has a great educator with modern resources. We don’t know the potential of our state because we’ve never funded our public schools enough to realize our potential. I will fix Mississippi’s teacher shortage crisis by giving teachers and school support staff a hard-earned pay raise, creating a career ladder for increased compensation with additional leadership responsibilities for teachers, and targeting grants to areas with teacher shortages. We should invest in all of our schools, whether they are rural or disadvantaged, so every child can get the great education they deserve. It is unconscionable that our state is sitting on a nearly $4 billion dollar surplus while parents and teachers are asked to provide school supplies for their kids’ classrooms. I will support education funding that will orient Mississippi toward the economy of the future: Our students deserve access to advanced STEM programs and high-tech vocational programs. In order for this to be a reality, we must fully fund public education. As governor, my top priority will be to invest in our schools, ensuring every child has access to high-quality education regardless of their zip code.

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?
Currently, we have a surplus of nearly $4 billion, and we should be using this money to support families, educators and students – not giving handouts to the big corporations and Mississippians who can afford a lobbyist to do their bidding.

4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not?
Yes, our taxpayer dollars should go to public schools. If we’re putting public dollars into voucher programs, the schools receiving public funds should have to meet accreditation standards. The voucher program was established to help special education students, and there is clear evidence these vouchers have failed to do that while simultaneously justifying diverting funding from our public schools.

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, I think that if a school is receiving taxpayer dollars, they should be held to the same accountability measures as public schools.

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, special education services in public schools should be fully funded. We don’t know the potential of our state because we’ve never funded our public schools enough to realize our potential. It is unconscionable that our state is sitting on a nearly $4 billion dollar surplus while parents and teachers are asked to provide school supplies for their kids’ classrooms. As governor, my top priority will be to invest in our schools and to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide?
Yes, Mississippi children need to have access to early education that puts them on track to succeed, and we deliver that by raising wages for Mississippi’s childcare workers while reducing the financial burden on families seeking childcare. We owe it to our children and parents to increase funding pre-school programs in Mississippi. Our state will prosper when parents can return to work knowing that their children are safe and well-cared for in childcare programs.

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?
One of the most important things the Legislature can do is expand Medicaid so that 220,000 Mississippians can get care, our hospitals can stay open, and we can create jobs – but cheap, childish, partisan politics from Tate Reeves has stood in the way of this becoming a reality for too long. In addition to expanding Medicaid, we support investing in community school programs that provide health and social services to address our state’s mental health crisis and to make sure public education is fully funded so that students have access to special education resources to help them overcome their learning and psychological problems. My “Cutting Taxes, Creating Jobs” plan includes ensuring that parents have access to affordable child care and early education programs. It is disgraceful that the average cost of child care in Mississippi represents over 11 percent of the median income for a two-parent household. Many people want to work but cannot afford childcare – and as governor, I will make sure that we invest in child care so that Mississippians who are eager to be in the workforce can have that opportunity.

9. In the 2022 Legislative Session, a significant teacher pay raise was passed. Do you support continued pay increases to ensure that Mississippi’s teacher salaries keep pace with inflation and salaries in our neighboring states?
Yes, we can’t expect to compete with neighboring states if we aren’t giving our teachers the pay they deserve. Right now, inflation is eating up the cost of a pay raise – and we need to make sure that teacher salaries keep up with the price of inflation so we can recruit and retain educators. We need to address rising health insurance costs and expand access to Mississippi’s teacher loan repayment programs.

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, teachers and state employees who served our state and retired, but want to continue serving our state in the Legislature should be able to draw their pension. I believe people should be able to access their retirement funds in order to live when they stop working.

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 believe that my Department of Education should be led by someone with classroom experience. Throughout my campaign and as governor I plan to hold roundtable discussions with teachers, school administrators and parents from across the state. Part of my “Cutting Taxes, Creating Jobs” plan also includes collaborating with educational institutions and businesses to provide workforce training and scholarships for high-demand fields. When I am governor, educators and parents will always have a seat at the table and your support is critical to the future of Mississippi.

12. In the past, legislators have received tremendous pressure from the leaders of their chamber (House or Senate), state and party leaders, and corporate lobbyists, to vote in ways that could contradict the will of their constituents and harm their communities. How would you respond to such pressure?
One of the main points of my campaign has been how we’re going to root out corruption in state government – and it made the lobbyists and big campaign donors furious. I’m not afraid to get a little dirt under my fingernails working with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to pass policy that is best for Mississippians, and I certainly can’t be bought by party leaders and lobbyists. I was raised by a single mama, and growing up, my family was poor – so poor that, in our family home, we could see straight down through the floor to the dirt. In my 23 years of public service, I’ve never once forgotten who I am, where I came from and who sent me. That’s not going to change when I’m governor.

Tate Reeves (Incumbent)


John Witcher (defeated in primary)


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