Late last night, Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed almost all funding for public education in the K-12 appropriation bill, leaving school districts with no budget – and no way to pay teachers – at the worst possible time: with the fast approaching start of a school year brimming with unprecedented challenges.
Among the sections the governor struck from the bill were those funding:
- The MAEP (which pays teacher salaries)
- Special education
- Classroom supplies
- School nurses (COVID-19, anyone?)
- Literacy programs
- Schools for the Blind and the Deaf
- Vision screenings
- Chickasaw Cession
- School attendance officers
Gov. Reeves left intact funding for private school vouchers and limited funding to run the Mississippi Department of Education.
The governor has alleged, wrongly, that the veto was needed because the Legislature “cut a teacher pay program…quietly, without much or any conversation.” He added, “Pretty much nobody in the legislature or education community knew about it until we discovered it…” That is blatantly false.
The truth is that Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson, in describing the bill in committee and on the floor, explained to the Senate that they were transferring money from the School Recognition Program into the MAEP to avoid deeper cuts and protect teacher salaries in a very difficult budget year.
And we and other education associations reported that to you repeatedly, in emails, on social media, and on our web sites. See our emails of June 29 and July 1, our social media posts of June 30 and July 1, and our web site posting.
The School Recognition Program has been controversial since its inception because it gives bonuses to teachers based on the State Accountability Model – a source of contention for most educators. Teachers have lodged countless complaints about the unfairness of the School Recognition Program. Because there were no state tests last year – and thus will be no accountability ratings – legislators believed this shift of funds would have no impact on teacher bonuses intended to reward the prior year. They learned later that the program awards the bonuses nearly two years after administration of the state tests on which they are based. Once this was clear, legislators announced publicly – and informed Gov. Reeves – that they would make a deficit appropriation to cover the bonuses and that no veto was necessary to correct it. See the announcement released by House Education Chair Richard Bennett. The Legislature made a similar deficit appropriation in January of this year to cover the shortfall in teacher pay that Reeves presided over in 2019.
If you’ve been following The Parents’ Campaign for very long, you know that, when we believe the Legislature has acted in a way that is not in the best interest of public schools, we say so. But that just isn’t the case this time. In fact, last November, you elected the most education-friendly Legislature we have seen in years. The House and Senate Education chairs and vice-chairs have gone to the mat fighting for public schools and public school teachers. They have pushed for increased funding for teacher pay, the MAEP, pre-k, distance learning, and countless other important measures. They keep the education community informed of their intentions, and they invite our input.
The 2020 Legislative Session has been long and difficult. Budget decisions were pushed to the last possible moment as legislators grappled with an uncertain revenue picture, and they deserve credit for looking under every rock for the funding needed to mitigate cuts to the MAEP. Please be patient with our legislators and, especially, with our school district leaders as they deal with the fallout from this senseless veto. We will keep you posted as we learn more about possible solutions and next steps.