At least a portion of Republican Tate Reeves’ new campaign ad touting his proposed $4,300 pay raise for public school teachers was filmed at the New Summit School, a Jackson private school founded by a Reeves campaign donor. It also featured several private school teachers and Republican political appointees.
The 30-second spot features Kathy Henry, a member of the state Parole Board whom Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appointed to the full-time post. Her husband is Mark Henry, a gubernatorial appointee – to the Workers’ Compensation. He earns almost $120,000 per year. Henry previously was Bryant’s chief of staff and was a former executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
“Every day I saw children blossom,” Kathy Henry said in the ad.
She told Mississippi Today she taught in the public schools for 25 years before retiring from Northwest Rankin in 2011. She also worked for former Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, who represented the 3rd Congressional District of Mississippi.
Later in the ad, Henry can be seen in the back of a classroom filled with children as Reeves espouses the importance of public school teachers.
“I am a nice person. I care about children,” Henry told Mississippi Today when asked why she appeared in the ad.
In another portion of the ad, Reeves sits on bleachers in the New Summit gym with a group of white women. At least two of the women work for private schools: First Presbyterian Day School in Jackson and the Magnolia Speech School in Jackson, based information from sources, social media and Internet searches. The other women could not immediately be identified.
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Nancy New, founder and president of New Summit School, and Zack New, the executive director of the school, contributed a combined $5,000 to Reeves’ gubernatorial campaign. The New Learning Resources Inc., an online learning company that Nancy New owns, has also received a total of $1.03 million in state funding over the past four legislative sessions.
“I gave other candidates money, too,” Nancy New said Monday. “You need to check on that, too.”
Campaign finance records show that New donated $2,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat opposing Reeves in November.
New said she did not know whether a Reeves’ commercial was made at her school.
In a statement, Reeves spokesman Parker Briden said the campaign films ads at public and private schools because Reeves “isn’t trying to pit them against each other.”
“We were proud to film this one at New Summit, a school that has helped many special needs children gain a quality education; Tate has a strong sense of mission to help those kids. They were very gracious with their time and space after a school day. The teachers featured in our ad were public school teachers.”
New Summit has benefitted from the program Reeves championed to provide public funding for a small fraction of the state’s special needs children to attend private schools.
The Legislature passed the program in 2015 to provide scholarships or vouchers to about 450 of the state’s more than 65,000 special needs children.
During the final days of the 2019 legislative session, the legislative leadership led by Reeves quietly inserted language into a bill adding $2 million to the program. The money was added even though House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, had promised House members the program would not be expanded because of oversight concerns highlighted in a legislative watchdog report. Bennett told House members he did not know the language adding the extra money was in the bill.
Reeves has advocated expanding other school choice voucher programs during his eight years as lieutenant governor, but has been unsuccessful in moving them through the process.
Henry told Mississippi Today she had been in other ads for Reeves and was asked to participate in the teacher pay raise ad. Henry said she believes it was appropriate since she is a former classroom teacher and a public education supporter.
“If you are trying to say there is something wrong with me being in a Reeves commercial, I am outraged,” she said.
Reeves faces Hood in the Nov. 5 general election. The candidates have competing teacher pay raise proposals.
Michelle Liu contributed to this story.