Rep. Richard Bennett of Long Beach has been named the new chairman of the House Education Committee
Geoff Pender

House Speaker Philip Gunn on Friday named Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, to lead the House Education Committee.

Bennett, a 10-year veteran lawmaker, replaces former chairman John Moore, a Brandon Republican who resigned last month facing a House investigation over  sexual harassment complaints.

The appointment of Bennett, a staunch public education supporter and former education leader on the Coast, comes over protest from some conservative “school choice” factions who opposed him being named as chairman, House leadership sources said.

“Sometimes we in this Legislature come across as or get accused of being anti-public schools, which is just not the case,” Bennett said. “I believe in public schools. I’m a product of public schools and for most of my adult life I’ve fought for the betterment of public schools.”

Bennett, 60, takes the chairmanship as the legislative leadership is considering an ambitious education agenda, including a long-discussed rewrite of the state’s school funding formula and an expansion of current school choice programs.

“We are going to work on a new (funding) formula,” he said. “We want superintendents of school districts to know the amount of money they are going to get each year so they can plan for the future. I want to take away micromanagement of our school districts and give more local control to our school boards, our superintendents, and allow them to do what they need to do to improve our schools. They are the experts in education and they are the ones we are going to have to lean to to see what’s best to move our education process forward.”

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Bennett was a key player during last year’s attempt to rewrite the state’s school budget formula, successfully carrying a placeholder bill for the rewrite in the House Appropriations Committee.

He notably expressed his opposition to a consultant’s recommendation to shift the school funding burden onto property rich districts.

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In late December, Bennett was targeted in his home district with direct mailers by Americans for Prosperity-Mississippi, a group whose leader, Russ Latino, often has the ear of the GOP legislative leadership on policy and ideology issues. The mailers called on Bennett’s constituents to call him “and ask him to stand with President Trump and Mississippi families by supporting Education Scholarship Accounts.” ESAs and similar “vouchers” allowing public school funds to be spent by parents at private schools have been a controversial issue in the Legislature for years.

Bennett is a top Gunn lieutenant and has been serving as chairman of the House Gaming Committee, an important post for the Coast delegation. On Friday, Gunn appointed Rep. Casey Eure, R-Saucier, to the gaming chairmanship.

Bennett, 60, has extensive public education experience and family ties to the state public education system.

He was a longtime Long Beach school board member and served as its president. Bennett is a former president of the Gulf Coast School Board Association and a former member of the state School Board Association. He was also a member of the Harrison County Alternative School Board. He also dealt with local education issues as a Long Beach city alderman.

Bennett’s father was longtime superintendent of Harrison County schools and his mother worked for Head Start for 30 years. His wife, now a city alderwoman, is a retired special-needs educator. Bennett’s sister serves on the Gulfport School Board and his son is the assistant principal of Long Beach High School.

Bennett attended Jeff Davis Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, but did not complete a bachelor’s degree. He retired from DuPont after 29 years.

 “As chairman of education, my focus is going to be to make our schools better for Mississippi,” Bennett said. “We cannot move forward as a state until we improve education. That’s my goal.”


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