Some Bad News, Some Good News

Mississippi parents make my heart sing!

My phone has been ringing and my inbox is full. Droves of Mississippi parents are asking, “What else can we do to make our legislators support our public schools?” 

Hang in there, and don’t give up!  Tell ten of your friends how your legislators voted on bills in the last round, and ask them to join our effort. Ask your legislators to meet with you to make sure they understand what parents, students, and teachers are facing because of the laws they are passing. Write letters to the editor to lift up the issues that are important to you. Together, we can win the day for our kids.

The bad news

Today was the deadline for bills to pass out of committee. House and Senate committees passed bills to aid the privatizers and killed ones that would have helped public school teachers and students. I’ll bet the message in what passed out of committee and what didn’t will not be lost on you…

Passed: HB 488 – A privatization bill that allows an existing scholarship program that is intended to increase the number of dyslexia therapists in public schools to be used for therapists who work in private special purpose schools; diminishes the goal of increasing the number of dyslexia therapists in public schools.

Killed: SB 2302 – An additional $5,000 supplement for public school National Board Certified Teachers who teach in geographic critical needs districts. 

Passed: SB 2695 – A privatization bill that provides tuition vouchers for children with special needs to attend unaccountable private schools that are not required to provide special education services. A privatization group is passing around a document claiming that the bill has 26 accountability measures. This is laughable. The bill does not have a single accountability measure for the private academies and for-profit schools to which it funnels state funding; it does have some measures to make sure that parents use the debit cards to pay tuition at private and for-profit schools and not on “ineligible expenditures,” but notably, it provides no safeguards for children. The group making claims about voucher accountability is the same organization, headed by Grant Callen, that was making robocalls a week or so ago alleging that pro-public school legislators were not supporting “school reform.” It is noteworthy that the authors of the voucher bill have voted repeatedly in the last four years to under-fund special education programs in public schools.

Killed: HB 745 – A bill providing an exemption for public school students with special needs to be promoted to fourth grade if they are meeting the requirements of their IEPs but do not meet the cut score on the high-stakes standardized reading test, and making the current school year a baseline assessment year for all third grade students, delaying for one year retentions based solely on the state reading test. NOTE: Governor Bryant’s original 2013 literacy bill included an important good cause exemption, which is also included in Florida’s law, that would have resolved these issues. The governor’s bill passed the House two years ago with the exemption intact, but it was removed by the Senate author and the final 2013 Literacy Act did not include it. Without this exemption, considerable harm could be done to Mississippi third-graders, and it should be corrected. We encourage legislators to find another vehicle for this important amendment.

Passed: SB 2839 & HB 1629 – Tax cuts that would reduce state revenue by anywhere from $400-million to $1.7-billion a year. The leadership says our financial situation has never been better, and it’s time to give money away! (These bills have passed their respective chambers and were not subject to today’s committee deadline.)

Killed: HB 582 – A pay raise for public school teacher assistants to bring their minimum salaries to $15,000 per year (you read that right – the minimum salary for teacher assistants is just $12,500 per year). The explanation for killing the bill? It would cost too much. (The cost would be between $5-million and $10-million.) I kid you not. And this was right after the same committee passed a pay raise for court reporters, which I’m sure they deserve. Teacher assistants deserve a pay raise, too.

The bright spot

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed HB 471, a bill that changes the basis for MAEP funding from average daily attendance to average daily membership. This will remove the draconian “63 percent” rule passed two years ago and will fund most districts based upon enrollment rather than attendance. School districts will still be required to track attendance, and the State Auditor’s office will make unannounced “head count” visits to verify those numbers. Any district in which the auditor’s head count is less than 94.5% of the district’s reported enrollment would be funded based upon average daily attendance. We thank the Senate Appropriations Committee for passing this important bill and encourage the full Senate to pass it, as well.

Floor debate begins tomorrow

Floor debate begins tomorrow with a deadline of March 11. Please ask everyone you know to contact their legislators about these bills. Ask your legislators to vote no on the privatization bills and on tax-cut bills that reduce state revenue. Call them every day, if necessary. If we can’t afford to fund our public schools and we can’t afford raises for assistant teachers, we surely can’t afford to fund private academies and for-profits!

Ask your representative to vote NO on SB 2695 (vouchers for private school tuition).

 

and

Ask your senator to vote NO on HB 488 (scholarships for private school teachers) and YES on HB 471 (funding based on enrollment).

 

Capitol Switchboard: 601.359.3770

Lt. Governor Reeves  Capitol: 601.359.3200

Speaker Gunn  Capitol: 601.359.3300

I am also getting calls from legislators. A majority of them agree with us, but need your encouragement. One thing is for certain: education is NOT a partisan issue. That point has been made repeatedly – by legislators and parents. Overwhelmingly, we Mississippians support our public schools. We are proud of the work our teachers are doing every day to improve the lives of Mississippi children. And we are proud of the work our kids are doing to reach new heights in achievement. They deserve the support of every elected official in this state – and our continued push to ensure that Mississippi students are provided resources that are comparable to those that other states provide their children. 

If there’s money enough for a tax cut of any size, there’s money enough to give our kids the same shot at success that kids in other states are getting. Not to do so is unconscionable. 

Thank you, thank you for loving our children – for making those calls and typing those emails and sending text messages and tweeting your tweets and sharing on Facebook until your fingers ache! Know that there are thousands of other moms, dads, grandparents, and friends who are doing the same – because we know that it’s the right thing to do. For so many Mississippi children, it is their only hope of a better life. How could we not? Let’s make those calls and share on Facebook and recruit a thousand more to help us – and let’s get this done for our kids!

Gratefully,

Nancy  

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As we look toward the 2022 Legislative Session, there is reason to be hopeful. And there is reason to be vigilant! The Senate is pushing for a significant teacher pay raise, but the House tax shift plan threatens to derail it.

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