Since the Republican Party has become the majority party in Mississippi two distinct wings have formed when it comes to education policy. One represents the status quo education establishment. The other is comprised of more traditional Republican education reformers who believe in school choice and charter schools. The two flavors went head to head in the race to succeed Senator Merle Flowers in DeSoto County.
A glaring result of the runoffs for Senate District 19, as well as for House District 52, was that DeSoto County voters, labeled as anti-charter schools, aren't as focused on that piece of the state's education reform options as some would like for you to believe, especially Superintendent Milton Kuykendall who has been considered one of the most powerful influences in DeSoto County politics.
In HD 52 - the race that received very little attention - Bill Kinkade defeated Jeremy Bryan. Bryan was staunchly anti-charter schools, so much so that his answers to The Parents Campaign survey
regarding charter schools can be summed up in one line - "I do not support charter schools in any form."
Kinkade is more open to options.
After learning of the reflexively anti-charter school position taken by Bryan, Jackson entrepreneur Joel Bomgar, former MDA head Leland Speed, and a few other leading business people in the state backed Bill Kinkade, setting up a clear distinction for voters.
In SD 19, Dr. David Parker defeated Rep. Pat Nelson. Nelson was a leader in stalling the charter schools bill and voted against Speaker Philip Gunn and the GOP leadership in the 2012 legislative session in the House Education Committee.
Nelson has been consistent in his stance that charter schools be first initiated as a pilot program and restricted from successful districts.
Parker on the other hand has shown more openness and while not considered an advocate for charter schools, was not as "on the record" against the prevailing charter school initiative as Nelson.
Parker is interested in broad education reforms and during the campaign supported greater parental choice in education, public money following the child to other public institutions, and tax relief for parents and private sector organizations assisting education. Parker said, "I believe we should allow parents to decide the education destiny of their children."
Parker and Kinkade are without question loyal and committed to their immediate constituents, but by virtue of their very public campaign positions on education, they have already exhibited the strategic leadership needed for this state by recognizing that this issue is bigger than their own backyard and is essential to moving Mississippi forward.
Make no mistake, I believe that they are both of the character and mettle to fight for DeSoto and Marshall County's till their dying breath, but you really must appreciate their recognition that DeSoto County and Marshall County are not on an island, but rather very much in the state of Mississippi!
This is an interesting lesson for Republican candidates. Most GOP statewide candidates are decidedly pro-charter schools because they understand Republican primary voters are for anything that empowers parents and creates competition. Many House and Senate members, pressured by local administrators and educators, believe it is in their electoral interests to oppose charter schools.
At least in part, the DeSoto races showed that the less vocal pro-charter schools wing of the party are a lot more potent at the ballot box than the very vocal education establishment when it comes to GOP primaries. How much so? Both Kinkade and Parker won with above 60% of the vote.
It would appear that the Milton Kuykendalls and Nancy Loomes experienced a setback November 27 and education reform proponents in Mississippi gained some positive ground.
Posted November 30, 2012 - 10:00 am