Education is the "number one issue that keeps coming up" in District 100, according to new State Rep. Mark Shirey (R-Mobile).

Shirey is a University of Alabama Birmingham graduate with a bachelor's degree in Medical Technology. He received his Doctorate of Optometry from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. As the past president of the Alabama Optometric Association, "he worked closely with leaders in the state and helped write legislation that provides greater access to eye care for all Alabamians," according to his campaign site.

"I've been in Montgomery just about every session for 20 years," Shirey said in a recent interview with 1819 News. "I worked with the Optometric Association. I was president of the Optometric Association. We spent a lot of time doing advocacy there. I started working with a lot of local campaigns just helping out, knocking on doors, and putting yard signs up. It just got more and more involved there, and then I decided, hey, I can sit there and complain, or I can step up."

He is a native of Dekalb County but moved to Mobile over two decades ago with his wife, where they raised their daughter and operated a single-doctor optometry practice in West Mobile for the past 20 years.

Shirey lost a Republican primary race against Jack Williams for a State Senate District 34 seat in 2018 before winning the House District 100 seat last year.

"I had a great experience," Shirey said. "That's why I decided to run again. I got in late to that race with Jack Williams. Jack Williams just had so much support. It really did pave the way for this run. I met so many people and got my toes wet talking to big groups and things like that and meeting people in Montgomery. It was just paving the way for this."

Shirey said "the number one issue that keeps coming up is education" when he spoke with voters on the campaign trail.

"At that point, we were all talking about we're last in math," Shirey said. "We're struggling in this. Education was the biggest issue. We had just put more money into education, and we'd just passed some initiatives, but then we delayed those initiatives, so hopefully, once we get all that in place, our math and our reading skills will come up even more. We're not last in math now. That's a great thing."

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2022 Nation's Report Card released in October showed Alabama going from last place to 40th in fourth-grade math and from 49th to 39th in fourth-grade reading.

Shirey said there will be some type of school choice legislation in the upcoming legislative session, but "we haven't actually seen the bill yet."

"We're going to have a school choice bill," Shirey said. "I'm in favor of school choice, but … it's got to be the right bill. I'd have to read the bill to see if I'd actually vote for it because you can't ruin public education by just doing school choice. I don't think that's going to be the be-all, end-all because some of these places we could give them $50,000 to go to school, and there's not a school around there to go to."

As for the state's sizable state budget surplus, Shirey said, "I'm a fiscal conservative, so I'd really like to hold onto that as much as we can, and that way, we don't get ourselves in a bind somewhere else."

"If we can do tax cuts, absolutely," Shirey said. "When we do tax cuts, let's make a smaller government too so that we don't need all that taxing. It's a tough issue, but yes, I'm all for tax cuts as long as we cut the appropriate government to take care of it."

Shirey will serve on the Health; Commerce and Small Business; and Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections committees.

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