Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley and Mississippi Association of Educators President Erica Jones address the concerns of educators during a town hall meeting held at the Hilton Hotel in Jackson, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley called for fully funding public schools and increasing teacher pay as he laid out his education policy priorities in a Monday town hall.

Presley, who is challenging Republican incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves in the November election, laid out his proposals in a Jackson town hall hosted Monday evening by the Mississippi Association of Educators. 

Presley, who was endorsed by the association in June, and MAE President Erica Jones spoke to an audience of about 25 people, answering questions about teacher retention, equity in school funding and their goals for education in Mississippi. 

“The most important thing we can do as a state is educate our children,” Presley said. “Not only for their wellbeing, but for economic development, for our workforce and for moving our state forward.”

Here are some of the major issues Presley covered:

  • Fully funding public schools: Presley’s top proposal of the night was fully funding public schools, as he said it would help address many of the other issues schools face. The public school funding formula, known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was established by the Legislature in 1997 and has been consistently underfunded every year since 2008. There was a push to fully fund the formula during the legislative session this spring, but it did not prevail. 
  • Community schools: Presley repeatedly discussed his desire to see more districts in the state adopt wraparound services offered at schools in a model known as “community schools.” The services can include health care, a school-based food pantry, or after-school programs depending on the needs of the community. Presley said this model prioritizes a local community solving its own problems, but added he would be open to state funding to help implement these new programs. 
  • Teacher pay and retention: Presley floated multiple policy proposals regarding teachers including incentivizing experienced teachers to stay in the classroom longer to mentor new teachers, giving bonuses to teachers who work in areas with teacher shortages, and increasing teacher pay across the board. Presley said teachers have not been able to feel the impact of the historic teacher pay raise in 2022 because of health insurance costs. Other reports have also linked the diminishing of the pay raise to record inflation. 
  • School infrastructure: Presley decried the state of school buildings in Mississippi, saying the state needs to assemble a list of the oldest school buildings and appropriate a grant fund each year that goes towards renovating or replacing all of them. The Legislature created a program with a similar aim in 2022, but made the program a loan instead of a grant and did not include any provisions that required prioritizing the state’s oldest buildings first. 
  • Appointments to the State Board of Education: Presley said all of his appointments to the State Board of Education, the governing body that oversees actions taken by the Mississippi Department of Education, would either be public school teachers or the parents of public school students. 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.