Analysis: Mississippi Senate candidates differ on education funding

How large a role should the federal government have in educating American children? It’s a politically sensitive question dividing the Republicans in Mississippi’s U.S. Senate race this year.

Incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel are competing in the June 3 primary. Both men criticize Common Core academic standards, which have been adopted by Mississippi and most other states and outline what children should be learning in reading and math at each grade level. Both men say education policy should be set at the state and local level, not by the federal government.

The candidates differ significantly on federal funding for education.

Cochran was elected to the Senate in 1978, after six years in the House. His Senate website says he is “a member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds federal education and health programs, is dedicated to ensuring that federal resources are available to address the chronic health needs of the poor in Mississippi and to advance medical research at the state’s universities.”

McDaniel, elected to the state Senate in 2007, asserts the federal government should have no role in education — not even in helping pay for it.

“The word ‘education’ is not in the Constitution. Because the word is not in the Constitution, it’s none of their business,” McDaniel said during an April 10 campaign event. “The Department of Education is not constitutional.”

He was talking about the U.S. Constitution and the federal Department of Education. His line drew applause from about 100 people at the state Agriculture Museum in Jackson, including several Mississippi Tea Party members.

Cochran’s campaign did not make the senator available for an interview with The Associated Press this past week. However, campaign spokesman Jordan Russell criticized McDaniel’s words.

State records show that for the current budget year, Mississippi is spending about $3.3 billion on elementary and secondary education. Roughly $800 million of that, or 25 percent, is federal money.

“The idea of leaving $800 million of federal education money on the table strikes me as pretty ridiculous,” Russell said.

The Commercial Appeal