Bill Waller Jr., a candidate in the Governor’s race, hosted a Town Hall meeting in Clinton on Tuesday night. The meeting specifically focused on the communities thoughts surrounding education needs in the state.
Education is one of Wallers three main campaign focuses. It is joined by infrastructure and healthcare. He began the meeting by commenting on the teacher pay raise that was given during the 2019 Legislative Session.
“I thought it was very unfortunate that we wait seven years into an administration to add a little bit of money. It may have been all they could do, but waiting till the last, they can’t do much,” said Waller.
Waller said, if elected he plans to do something for teacher salaries yearly. He said he has also had conversations with a leading Republican candidate in the Lt. Governor’s race who agrees with that initiative.
His sentiments were echoed in the crowd who focused on teacher pay raise. One teacher in attendance said in her 20 years of teaching, with a Master’s Degree, she didn’t make close to the $40,000 mark until well after her first year of teaching.
Waller said teacher pay is the “bottom line, it must be fixed.” Currently Mississippi teachers are paid $5,000 to $6,000 lower than the Southeastern Average which causes major problems in recruiting teachers to the state.
Mention was also made of State Auditor Shad White’s recent report that administrative spending outside the classroom had increased $11,000 in the last decade. While teacher salaries are a state matter, and administrative costs are not, Waller said it is something to be monitoring.
“Bottom line, teacher pay is a state obligation,” said Waller.
One of the ways administrative costs may be higher could be related to the amount of testing required for students in Mississippi to graduate. Currently high school seniors must pass four exit exams to graduate. The include: Algebra 1, Biology, U.S. History, and English. This puts an emphasis on school accountability and whether or not there is a better and more cost effective way to test a student to ensure they are ready for graduation.
One attendee said if these tests could be eliminated it could not only cut costs but elevate the stress of testing many teachers, students and administrators have fought against. However, Waller said changing required testing and implementing say an ACT score, would be a change in federal regulation.
The crowd present agreed with Waller on other areas to improve, including creating a greater emphases on vocational training.
“One of the things I want to explore is possibly a vocational track,” said Waller. “It’s too late to wait till they’re a senior in high school because most have, not all, but many have started to tune out. You’ve got to capture them early.”
Others mentioned allowing certifications for students who have achieved a certain mastery in specific areas like computers, a change in requirements for individuals to declare an education major to obtain a teaching degree and looking at the policy on Pre-K and Kindergarten.
Waller is challenging Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and state Rep. Robert Foster for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in August.