June 21, 2014 10:06:53 PM
JACKSON -- U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel has changed his statements about federal school funding in the past two weeks, after coming under sharp criticism from former Gov. Haley Barbour and state education leaders.
Barbour and other critics say McDaniel has dangerous ideas that could rob billions of dollars from one of the poorest states in the nation.
McDaniel, a tea party-backed state senator from Ellisville, is trying to unseat six-term U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a Republican primary runoff Tuesday.
McDaniel told The Associated Press in April that Mississippi could afford to forgo federal funding for elementary and secondary schools. He now says Mississippi should take federal money.
"We don't want to hurt public education, but we don't believe it's best dictated to us by Washington, D.C.," McDaniel said Thursday night at a campaign rally in Madison.
Cochran has said repeatedly that the federal government should help finance education but should not dictate policy.
"We have many ways in which the federal government shares in the financing and supervision through the Department of Education in Washington," Cochran said Tuesday in Magee. "But we need local control -- boards of education, superintendents and administrators who really have the day-to-day responsibility of running the schools and making sure they meet the needs of people in Mississippi. We have to recognize that the primary responsibility is the state government."
Education funding became a central campaign issue after June 3, when McDaniel and Cochran advanced from a three-person primary that also included a candidate who won a small share of the vote and prevented anyone from getting a majority needed to win the Republican nomination.
Barbour, who was governor from 2004 to 2012, is involved in an independent political action committee that is backing Cochran. Days after the first primary, Barbour latched onto statements McDaniel had made about education weeks earlier.
McDaniel received applause during an April 10 campaign event at the state Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson when he said: "The word 'education' is not in the Constitution. Because the word is not in the Constitution, it's none of their business....The Department of Education is not constitutional."
In an interview with AP the next day, McDaniel repeated that and added that the federal government should have no role in education -- not even in funding it.
"I think Mississippi, if it's allowed to keep more of its tax revenue, could offset those losses," McDaniel said April 11.
Barbour said Friday: "That's just bunk. We can't offset that kind of loss."
Mississippi gets 25 percent of its school funding from the federal government, or about $800 million in the current budget year.
In the past two weeks, McDaniel has been saying that he's not against federal funding of education. He says that, if anything, Mississippi might not be getting enough federal money.
Barbour responded: "He's trying to wiggle his way off the hook by changing the subject."
Several state education leaders have written columns and letters to the editor criticizing McDaniel's original statement about Mississippi forgoing federal education funds. Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo, a retired banker who serves on the state College Board, wrote that a loss of federal money would hurt Mississippi. He also took issue with McDaniel saying that the U.S. Department of Education is unconstitutional because the word education is not in the Constitution.
"By this twisted logic, the Federal Aviation Administration and national parks are unconstitutional also," Patterson wrote in a letter published in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
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