Session Ends, Status of Bills

The 2015 Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature has ended. The Senate completed its work yesterday and the House did so this morning. I cannot thank you enough for your tireless work on behalf of Mississippi children. You have been amazing!
Here is an update of some of the legislation we tracked during the session…
K-12 Funding – HB 1536. Underfunds the MAEP by $201-million. Provides an increase of $106-million over the current year, $40-million of which is required to cover the second phase of the teacher pay raise. Beyond the funding for the pay raise, the bill funds the MAEP below the level appropriated in 2008. No additional funding was provided in the budget transfer bill (HB 434).
Common Core State Standards – SB 2161. Establishes a commission to make recommendations regarding state education standards to the State Board of Education (SBE) and removes the requirement that the SBE adopt at least 75 percent of the recommendations. School districts will not be required to administer the PARCC assessment after the current school year, and the high school subject area tests will be administered but will not be required for graduation. (The SBE is considering a policy that would require the student’s score on the subject area tests to constitute 25 percent of the student’s final course grade in Algebra I, Biology I, English II, and U.S. History. Read more here.)
Vouchers – SB 2695. Uses state funding to pay tuition at unaccountable private schools for children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Voucher schools are not required to provide special education services.
Charter Schools – SB 2300. Allows open enrollment within counties for charter schools. Permits students, even those in districts rated A, B, or C, to cross district lines to attend charter schools. State and local funding would follow the student. The Parents’ Campaign opposes this provision, believing charter schools should be restricted to students in chronically low-performing school districts. Both House Education Chairman Moore and Senate Education Chairman Tollison declined to take up the conference report, killing the bill.
MAEP Formula – HB 471. Changes the MAEP formula to use average daily membership (ADM, or enrollment), rather than attendance (ADA) in its calculation unless a district’s average daily attendance drops below 94.5 percent, in which case ADA would still be used. Changes the requirement for a student to be counted present to 60 percent of the normal school day, a move away from the draconian “63 percent of the instructional day” attendance rule. The conference report was passed by the House, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Clarke declined to take it up, and it died on the Senate calendar. After the Senate passed HB 471 unanimously earlier in the session, the Senate leadership’s choice on the last day of the session to kill this important bill, which would have given desperately needed relief to school districts, is stunning.
Changes to Literacy-Based Promotion Act. While the House passed a bill that would have provided an additional exemption for students with special needs and delayed the implementation of retentions based solely on one high-stakes assessment, Senate Education Chairman Tollison declined to take that bill up, and it died in the Senate Education Committee. No additional effort was made on the part of legislators to amend the statute to bring it in line with the Florida law after which it was supposedly modeled. Educators are predicting that many third-graders who are performing well in their classes, and who are one or more grade-levels ahead in math and other courses, will be forced to repeat third grade unnecessarily because Mississippi’s law lacks the Florida provisions. Read more.
Teacher Assistant Pay Raise. The House passed two bills that would have increased the minimum annual salary for teacher assistants to $15,000. Both died in the Senate.
Tax Cuts. Despite the persistent efforts of the state leadership to reduce state revenue, all major tax cut bills are dead. Some smaller corporate tax cut provisions have passed both chambers, as they have in just about every year in recent history. It is estimated that, since 2012, hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue have been given away in corporate tax cuts.
You can see updates on all of the bills we have tracked, and the votes on those bills, here. Please be sure to thank the legislators who have consistently stood up for public schools, often casting difficult votes despite enormous pressure from the leadership and privatization lobbyists.
What’s Next?
Almost all of our school districts will find themselves under water with the K-12 budget that was passed earlier in the session. The cost of the teacher pay raises and the annual step increases are more than the increases in state funding they will receive. The other unfunded mandates only make it worse. This has been the case for years; school districts have been going further backward with each new budget year. Many are now so desperate that they are once again talking about laying off personnel, always a last resort.
All the press releases, back slapping, and self-congratulations on the part of elected officials does not change the reality in our children’s schools: they do not have the resources they need to keep up with the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world. Our children are being denied the resources that other states happily provide their kids. That’s not much to brag about.
My inbox is full of emails from members asking what else we can do to protect public schools from the clearly hostile moves to starve them of adequate resources in an effort to privatize and profitize public education. The answer is plenty!
First, please continue to watch your email inbox for notifications from The Parents’ Campaign. Rumors of a special session, which could include a push for more tax cuts, are circulating. I will let you know if that materializes.
Watch your email inbox for a plan of action to take back our public schools. In the meantime, if you are interested in being a leader in this effort, please reply to this email, and we will get you on our “leaders” list. And be sure to “like” and comment on parents’ Facebook pages in support of public schools: Fed Up With 50th and Mississippians for Public Education, in addition to others you may find.
Thank you for your tremendous work so far. Though we have had many disappointments, we have also had a few victories. I cannot imagine where our schools – and our children – would be without you. It surely would be much, much worse. We’ve got more work to do in the months ahead. Our kids are still counting on us, and I know you agree that we are not going to let them down!

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