Every child in Mississippi deserves access to a quality education that will allow them to reach their full potential — no matter the school they attend, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make.

I grew up in Mississippi while our K-12 schools were desegregated, but not yet integrated. I was fortunate enough to attend a local parochial school until my junior year, until the school closed and I transferred to all-white Yazoo City High School. For a semester, me and my twin sister, Michelle, were among the very few Black students there. Every day was a challenge: from being called the “N-word”, to having to fend off racial attacks by students- and even sometimes from teachers I confess that I didn’t learn very much during that semester.

While it has been many years since Mississippi’s schools were desegregated, the legacy of that time can still be seen in our state’s education system. In 2016, half of all Black students in the state attended school in a district rated D or F — and 86% of those students were Black. The achievement gap between Black students and white students is immense. One piece or legislation won’t solve these problems. Only by supporting our students and our dedicated teachers can we begin to give every student in our state a high-quality education from the roots up.

I support all schools in our state. But public dollars should go toward our public schools. Period. Too many Mississippi school districts are struggling as dollars meant for them are diverted away. For years, Mississippi’s leaders have ignored laws, allowing our public schools to be underfunded by $2.3 billion dollars since 2008. Decisions about education are best left to our educators, teachers, parents and school administrators on the ground, and I will fight to get them the support and funding they need.

Teachers are super human and they deserve to be compensated for all they do. Our teachers and schools serve as so much more than academic development. In many communities, our teachers act as counselors, career advisors, nutritionists, mentors, and surrogate parents. Our public school teachers shouldn’t be spending on average $406 of their own money on school supplies or working a second job. Being a public school teacher in America isn’t easy — especially with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing teachers and students to adapt in unprecedented ways.

In our state, one in three school districts is designated as a critical teacher shortage area. In 2018, our state had thousands of teacher vacancies. By increasing pay for teachers, adequately funding our teacher training programs, streamlining the licensure process, and expanding federal loan forgiveness, we can begin to recruit first-class teachers to Mississippi’s public schools.

A high-quality education for our students includes internet access. As your senator, my first priority will be to expand broadband access. Online learning during the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the urgency of broadband access for all Mississippians. Every kid should be able to get online to do their homework or go to class.

Mississippi’s teachers, students, and parents need an ally in our federal Department of Education — not one that actively undermines them. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has attempted to cut our nation’s education budget by billions. This year, DeVos proposed slashing funding for hundreds of rural and low-income districts. As Senator, I will work with any president and any legislator to deliver results for Mississippi’s schools — and you bet I will demand answers for policies that hurt our teachers and families.