Thursday, July 9, 2020
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has vetoed most of the state education budget for the new fiscal year because it would have changed a bonus pay plan for some teachers.
Republican Reeves announced that and other vetoes late Wednesday.
The education budget, House Bill 1700, would have altered a program that gives extra pay to teachers in schools that show improvement or that are consistently high-performing. Reeves wrote that 23,157 teachers would lose money they have already earned.
“This is a program that has been instrumental in improving our state’s education system,” Reeves wrote on Facebook. “It gives additional pay to teachers in schools that are highly rated or improve a letter grade. Thousands of Mississippi teachers rely on it — from Barack Obama Elementary in Jackson to Harper McCaughan Elementary in Long Beach."
Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents' Campaign, which lobbies for and promotes public school funding, wrote in an e-mail to supporters on Thursday, "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," she wrote. "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."
Reeves also wrote that legislators did not eliminate the $26 million, but moved it to a fund that administrators control, characterizing it differently.
“The philosophy is: it should be re-distributed throughout so that everybody gets a small piece, rather than rewarding success,” Reeves wrote.
When legislators started meeting in January, there was broad consensus that they would try to give a pay raise to teachers and teachers' assistants. Those plans were dropped after the coronavirus pandemic struck and economic damage created uncertainty about the state budget.
Reeves wrote that some legislators have sought for years to change the teacher bonus pay plan that is based on schools' performance, and he believes it was done in House Bill 1700 without a substantial debate.
“After I’ve vetoed the bill, the legislature has a chance to come back and override my veto — locking in a teacher pay cut. Or they can sustain it and fix this,” Reeves wrote. “I suspect most legislators didn’t realize that they were voting to cut teacher pay, and they will fix it.”
A special session would be delayed because many people who work in the Capitol are quarantined after being exposed to the new coronavirus. At least 26 legislators and 10 others who work in the Capitol have tested positive for COVID-19, the state health officer said Wednesday. It's possible the numbers are higher because some legislators were tested after returning to their hometowns.
The state budget year began July 1. Reeves wrote that the Department of Education will function temporarily under authority of a letter from him, backed up by a legal opinion from the attorney general, “stating that they constitutionally have to perform their duties until the legislature can fix this.”
Update: Comments from Nancy Loome were added to AP's initial reporting by JFP staff.