TUPELO • Daniel Sparks will soon represent the state’s fifth senate district in the Mississippi Legislature and plans to advocate for the need to develop a skilled workforce.
Sparks, a Republican from Belmont, is an attorney who sat down with the Daily Journal on Monday. His desire to run for the Legislature stemmed from his career as an attorney. A lawyer, Sparks said, can only “follow what the law is” and not actively change the law.
“So if there’s something that you believe needs to be changed, the proper way to change it is through the Legislature,” Sparks said. “I think that once you have some experience, you have some ideas on things you believe you can better, you can either go lobby the Legislature or you can go be a part of it. I probably prefer being a part of it.”
Sparks hopes to change the way the state looks at career and technical education courses within the public school system. Rather than primarily encourage students to obtain a four-year degree from a university, Sparks wants more partnerships between community colleges and businesses.
“We have a serious skill gap and we have a lot of low-skilled labor and we have a lot of highly skilled labor,” he said. “The people in the middle of our economy, the people who have the most upward mobility, are the people who can find a skill, whether it’s in welding, HVAC or coding.”
Sparks has several connections to public education, having been an adjunct law professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. His mother is a retired public school teacher and he has two community colleges in his legislative district.
Several statewide officials have indicated a desire to pass legislation that would enact a statewide pre-kindergarten education system, including incoming Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who will serve as leader of the Senate. Sparks agrees that there should be some form of statewide-funded Pre-K and plans to study any education measure closely that comes before the full floor.
“Pre-K is a focus because it allows us to start on a little bit more of a level playing field,” Sparks said. “We have some people coming into kindergarten that have been prepared and some now who, unfortunately, have not been. So, I think that is key.”
Additionally, Sparks said he would support efforts to incrementally increase public educator salaries to reach the southeastern average.
He told the Daily Journal that he wants to be a lawmaker who will listen to others, regardless of political beliefs, and someone who will look for solutions to problems.
“I will listen to someone who may have the polar opposite belief on a policy issue than I do because I very well may learn something,” he said. “We don’t learn a lot when we sit in a room and everybody thinks exactly the same thing and we say the same thing back and forth to one another.”
Sparks’ district includes areas within Prentiss, Tishomingo and Itawamba counties. He is replacing outgoing state Sen. J.P. Wilemon, who served in the Legislature for 16 years.