On July 8, Governor Tate Reeves decided to veto the state of Mississippi’s educational budget for fiscal year 2021. Why, you might ask? According to Reeves himself, that question can be answered in two simple words: teacher incentives.
The education bill that was sent to the desk of the first-term governor once the Mississippi Legislature adjourned on July 2nd cut about $26 million from the School Recognition Program, which is a program implemented to provide pay raises to teachers at A and B-rated schools and schools that improve a letter grade from one year to the next.
“I just couldn’t take that chance when it’s nearly $30 million and 23,157 teachers have their paychecks on the line,” Reeves said. “I’m sorry but…I’ve got to do what’s right for those teachers.”
Before the governor officially vetoed the bill, some legislators, such as Representative John Read, spoke out, saying that “nobody was going to lose their money” with the cut as the Mississippi Department of Education was not able to issue awards based off an unprecedented school year.
Other leaders, like Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann, offered the opinion that the governor’s issue with the legislation needed to be resolved before resulting in a veto of the budget in its entirety as teachers could lose their paychecks all together.
“Now, our teachers are going back, but they don’t have any authorization by the state of Mississippi to get paid,” Hosemann said. “They’re only going to get paid if the governor decides to send a check to the schools. That’s not the way to run a railroad.”
In reply to Hosemann’s comments, Reeves asserted that it was too late to modify the budget as Democratic legislators cut funding for the teacher incentive program on purpose and with the help of Hosemann.
“On this particular piece of legislation, we have a tweet from the vice-chairman of education in the Senate…which that’s a story in itself I would presume…but the vice-chairman, a democrat of the education committee, tweeted out right after the session, ‘we convinced the republican leadership to end this failed program,’” Reeves recalled.
The tweet Reeves is referring to came from Senator David Blount on July 8—shortly after lawmakers left Jackson. Reeves used this interview to allude to the idea that Blount and Hosemann were working in cahoots to cut the incentive program solely to deepen the pockets of administrators.
GOP legislative leadership ended this failed program and put the money back into education. That’s what Mississippians want and expect. https://t.co/2r4NGz0DSN
— David Blount (@SenDavidBlount) July 7, 2020
“Now, that I don’t know who’s not telling the truth, but if the Democratic vice-chairman of education says that they convinced the GOP leadership to kill it, then there were members of the lieutenant governor’s staff that were telling republican senators that it was not a mistake,” Reeves said. “It was intentional.”
Reeves furthered his point with a list of budget cuts made during the 2020 legislative session that “miraculously” excluded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), the funding formula for public education.
“Now, every other agency in state government took a budget cut,” he explained. “We’re in the middle of the worst pandemic in the history of our country and the Department of Health took a budget cut. The governor’s office took a budget cut. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency took a budget cut, but the Adequate Education Program miraculously saw an increase because they took money from the School Recognition Program and put it in the MAEP formula.”
If Reeves is correct in his circumstantial notion that the $26 million that was supposed to go into the pockets of good teachers in the state of Mississippi instead wound up in the pockets of administrators, then expect a period of uproar from the teaching community from now until a new and improved budget is created by a legislature not planning to reconvene until a special session is called.