State Superintendent of Education Dr. Robert Taylor (photo from the University of Southern Mississippi).
The State Board of Education will hold a meeting in the coming days to name an interim state superintendent and take steps to begin a new search.
Wednesday afternoon, the vote to confirm Dr. Robert Taylor as State Superintendent of Education failed on the floor of the Mississippi Senate by a vote of 21-31. Confirmation of a candidate in the Senate is required in order to complete the appointment process.
The vote largely occurred on party lines, with only five Republicans voting to confirm Dr. Taylor. After the vote, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann (R) said there were legitimate concerns about whether he was the right person for the job.
“With a position as important as the person overseeing the education of our children, Senators should vote their conscience and confirmation should not be taken lightly,” Lt. Governor Hosemann said. “I defer to the body and believe they made the right decision today.”
Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar (R) said he thinks Dr. Taylor is a good man who has dedicated his life to education, and he should be respected and commended for what he’s done for education.
“And no one can take that away from him,” Chairman DeBar said. “The reason we have checks and balances in Mississippi is so we can vote as we see appropriate here in the Senate.”
DeBar ultimately joined most of his Republican colleagues in voting against Dr. Taylor. He said he was proud of the way the Senate conducted itself throughout the process.
Even as Lt. Gov. Hosemann tacitly endorsed the vote not to confirm Dr. Taylor, his Republican primary challenger, Senator Chris McDaniel, put out a release suggesting that Senate Republicans had risen up against Hosemann.
“I applaud my colleagues in the Senate for coming together to reject Delbert Hosemann backed, woke Democrat Robert Taylor as Mississippi’s next Superintendent of Education. As Mississippi continues to fall further behind our neighbors in pro-student, pro-parent improvements to education, allowing a critical race theory supporting liberal to serve as superintendent would be an insult to Mississippi families,” said McDaniel.
While there was indication that Dr. Taylor was previously registered as a Democrat in North Carolina, it is unclear what undergirds the claim that he is “woke.” Likewise, the claim that the Lt. Governor backed Taylor seems to be at odds with his public statements on the matter.
“The Lt. Governor did not select the state superintendent nor did he have any discussions with Senators about the appointment by the Board,” said Leah Rupp, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Office of the Lt. Governor.
All of the sources over the prior weekend that spoke with Magnolia Tribune suggested that there were earnest efforts underway to kill Dr. Taylor’s nomination before it made its way to the Senate floor and that it was a foregone conclusion that he would not be confirmed. McDaniel’s comments underscore how politics can intersect with confirmation votes, however.
Most of the expressed opposition to Taylor’s confirmation revolved around the process the State Board of Education used in making its hiring decision. Democrats who supported Dr. Taylor’s nomination, including Senators Hob Bryan and Juan Barnett, expressed a belief that process arguments were being applied selectively.
Senator Bryan said members of the current State Board of Education were appointed by the current Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House. Bryan noted Dr. Taylor’s hiring was the unanimous recommendation by the Board.
Bryan also questioned what the decision not to confirm Dr. Taylor would have in attracting top talent in the future.
“What obstacles are we creating for the next state superintendent of education?” Bryan asked.
The only Senator to speak against confirmation, Daniel Sparks (R), expressed concern about Taylor’s performance in previous posts and indicated he had explored data that called into question Taylor’s ability to improve poor performing districts. Sen. Sparks also alluded to questions surrounding school choice and government contracts, but did not expound on those concerns.
The State Board of Education (Board) and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) have both pushed back on claims that Dr. Taylor was not well-qualified for the role. They have pointed out that Dr. Taylor was hired unanimously by the Board on November 21, 2022, after a six-month nationwide search. He began serving in that role in January.
MDE said Dr. Taylor was selected through a competitive process from among 26 applicants from 15 states. Rosemary Aultman, Chair of the State Board, said they “conducted a fair, competitive and rigorous application process to select the most qualified candidate to fulfill the duties of state superintendent of education.”
“The search firm we hired was helpful in giving the board direction, and we are confident we selected the best candidate,” Aultman said.
MDE said the Board will schedule a special-called meeting in the coming days to name an interim state superintendent and take steps to begin a new search.
After the Senate declined to confirm Dr. Taylor as State Superintendent of Education, Democratic members of the Senate held a press conference.
Senator Derrick Simmons, Senate Minority Leader, said, “Dr. Taylor did everything that we tell people in the state of Mississippi to do: get a good education, try to use that good education, go out and get your experience and then come back to the state of Mississippi and give Mississippi all of your educational talents and all of your experience and give back to the community that gave to you. Dr. Taylor did in fact do that.”
State Senator Barnett said the actions today, in his opinion, are the reason that people are leaving Mississippi.
“I pray that one day, we will not let our politics, and not letting us run for office, stop us from doing what is right,” Barnett. “We’re not forward thinking when we do some of the things that we do.”
State Senator David Jordan said he has been in education for thirty-three years.
“I saw a set back this afternoon, but sometimes the darkest hours are just before the sunrise,” Jordan said.