I have great news and a little not-so-great news to report on this deadline day.
Just after noon today, Sen. Hob Bryan led a successful effort to add $60-million to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) appropriation. The amendment passed the Senate on a 26 to 24 vote. See that vote here.
Please join me in thanking the 26 senators who supported better funding for our public schools! Every single vote was critically important today. If even one “yea” vote had been a “nay,” the amendment would have failed.
The funding bill was held on a motion to reconsider by Sen. Michael Watson, but I anticipate that it will move forward tomorrow with the additional funding intact. If so, it will go back to the House where that chamber can either concur or invite conference, so it is far from a done deal. We will need to remain vigilant on this issue to ensure that this additional funding is not stripped from the bill later in the process.
As Sen. Bryan so eloquently stated, for years legislators have been “stealing” funding that Mississippi law says should go to public schools and sending those funds to shopping centers, oil and gas companies, and myriad other ventures in the way of corporate loopholes and tax breaks – all at the expense of our children. As a result, local schools have depleted their reserves in order to provide the basics required for accreditation and to meet the growing demands placed upon them by the Legislature. As school funding has been cut in recent years, schools have lost teachers, been forced to reduce course offerings and intervention programs, and struggled to provide the accommodations that children with special needs require.
Teacher Pay Raise
This morning, the House leadership announced its intention to adopt the higher increases provided in the first two years of the Senate pay plan and add increases in years three and four, with the raises in years three and four contingent upon revenue being available in those years. No benchmarks would be required in the new House plan. The House voted 71 to 50 to send the bill to conference to work out the best possible plan. You can see that vote here.
Some House members argued against sending the bill to conference, preferring to adopt the Senate plan and send it straight to the governor to avoid the risk that the pay raise could die in conference. It is important to note that virtually all members of the House support a teacher pay raise. The difference in opinion is over whether to push for a more significant raise, and incur some risk, or to take a sure thing, albeit lower than what teachers might get in conference.
We understand that concern but believe that it would be absolutely unconscionable for conferees to kill the teacher pay raise. Surely our legislators are not so petty that they would kill a teacher pay raise that is supported by just about every member of the Legislature because of minor differences in the two plans. It would be unthinkable for the Legislature to allow this effort to die in conference. HB 504 provides the perfect opportunity for the House and Senate leadership to dispel the allegations that they allow petty differences to overrule good government and to come forward with a teacher pay plan that will make us all proud.
The good news is that the House allowed the Senate voucher bill to die on the calendar. The bad news is that the Senate passed the House voucher bill on a 26-22 vote. You can see that vote here. The House will get another run at this bill when it comes back over for concurrence; they need to kill it. This is a very important vote, folks. These vouchers would spell bad news for children with special needs and for all children in our public schools. Please make sure that your legislators understand how important it is to defeat HB 765.
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Your contacts with your legislators are having an effect! The Senate vote on the MAEP amendment and the death of the Senate voucher bill in the House are perfect examples of what happens when you have conversations with your legislators about the impact of legislation on your local districts. But it is early in the process, and there still are very important votes coming up in the next couple of weeks.
Please take this opportunity to thank the legislators who voted with us today, and continue to have conversations with legislators who are not with us yet.
We are making progress! Let’s keep that momentum going and ensure better schools and brighter futures for all Mississippi children!