Candidate Q&A: House District 117

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:
Kevin W. Felsher (Incumbent)  •  Mark Simmons

Kevin W. Felsher (Incumbent)


Mark Simmons

1. What is your experience with K-12 public schools, personally and/or with your children or family?
I am a substitute teacher, so I have some first hand experience with the public school systems.

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.
I believe that our public schools should be adequately funded. Quite often it is visually apparent how public schools struggle both to achieve proper funding and to wisely use it. However, I am also an advocate for school choice. I believe that allowing parents the right to home school or private school their children can help to alleviate some of the burden on the public school system.

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?
First I would look for waste, and then attempt to reduce waste wherever possible. Making sure every dollar goes exactly where it is supposed to will go a long way to ensuring that state revenue is used to provide services correctly.

4. Will you oppose vouchers that send taxpayer dollars to private schools, religious schools, home schools, or virtual schools? Why or why not?
I will not. The right to choose how a child is educated must be that of the parent. While I believe in doing our best to make our public schools as top notch as is possible, the simple fact is that it is rare for a government institution to provide as good of a service as a private one. I believe that there may be some middle ground to making sure that families are allowed choice without entirely removing funding from the public schools. Finding that middle ground would be key.

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?
I believe that all schools should be held to at least a minimum of standards, and should always be answerable to those of us in the citizenry who fund them.

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.
I am not too proud to admit that I need to do more research on this topic, but my understanding is that where it applies to IEPs the Biloxi Public School system has let more than a few families down. I believe disabled children deserve a good education, and I think it is important to tailor their education to make sure that it is accessible and within their means. As far as funding, in this I would listen to the taxpayers, teachers, and parents to find a common ground for economic discussion.

7. Do you agree that Mississippi should provide high quality early childhood education statewide?
I personally received early childhood education from a private institution, and I do believe it helped me to develop critical thinking skills earlier in life which in turn helped me learn faster as I grew older. While I am uncertain it should be the burden of the state, I am open to a conversation regarding early childhood funding.

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?
Well first and foremost I think taking care of our student’s mental health is a big priority. Counselors go a long way in this, but I also think that teachers and parents could do more to consult with and understand each other. Every student is an individual, and each one requires their own lesson plan tweaks, daily adjustments, and schedule needs. Making sure that educators and counselors take the time to coordinate with parents can go a long way toward a successful education for any student.

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?
Generally speaking I think it is good to make sure our teachers are well paid. Even if one believes there are flaws in the education system itself, what it boils down to for teachers is the real day to day work and interaction with students. This is a tough job, and they deserve competent salaries for their hard work.

10. Do you agree that retired educators (and other retired state employees) should be able to draw their retirement while serving in the Legislature?
I see no immediate reason why they should not.

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, absolute. While I have my own outlook on issues like these the bottom line at the end of the day is that I seek to represent those who live in my district. I will, at all times, work with them and their needs in mind before my own. Integrity is found in faithfully serving constituents, and I would make sure to take their thoughts and opinions in to deep consideration. When looking to be advised, I would turn equally to parents, teachers, educational leaders, and even students to make sure I am able to form a knowledgeable grasp on any given issue.

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?
Pressure is no issue. I am a firm believer that elected officials must serve the people, not their party, not lobbyists, and not their peers in the House or Senate. When voting I will lead with the voice of the people first, my heart and mind second, and all else at a distant third.

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