Governor Tate Reeves took to social media Tuesday to express his unhappiness with the education budget the Mississippi Legislature sent to his desk, namely the fact that it cut nearly $26 million from the School Recognition Program which, he says, will mean a pay cut for 20,000 K-12 teachers across the state.
“The education bill has a major problem. The legislature cut a teacher pay program by over $26 million—a massive cut,” Reeves wrote. “It’s the program that rewards teachers in schools that are rated A, B, or improve a letter grade. It is our only performance reward program in the state. And it works… We were supposed to be giving them raises! It makes no sense to me!”
Reeves left readers with the impression that he would veto the bill.
State Senator Brice Wiggins (R), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, defended the cut, adding that everyone took a hit due to the challenging budget. However, Wiggins does not view this as a reason for the Governor to veto the bill.
“The program has not been repealed. Because of COVID, all agencies took an across the board cut of around 5%. Funding the state budget was a challenge this year and not where anyone wanted it to be. In other words, everyone took a hit,” Wiggins said in part. “Do I think this is reason to veto the bill? No. We will be back in January, 6 months into the fiscal year, and we can address it then. Revenues will likely have improved by then.”
Wiggins wrote that if the Governor vetoes the education budget bill, schools will be operating without money as districts plan for the new school year to start within a month.
“The funding for the School Recognition Program is/was just one part of the bill funding operations of our k-12 education system in the state,” Wiggins said. “So, with a veto our schools and educators will be operating without a budget and therefore without ????, right as schools are getting ready to start in a month. In other words, a veto is throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
State Senator David Blount (D) called the teacher incentive a “failed program” in a tweet, saying, “GOP legislative leadership… put the money back into education. That’s what Mississippians want and expect.”
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
House Appropriations Chairman John Read (R), appearing on the Gallo Show on SuperTalk Wednesday morning, said the teacher incentive program is handled by the Department of Education and since there was no testing last year to serve as a guide, they were told there would not be awards.
“What happened was people said there was no testing last year. There would not be awards so let’s take some money from the Department of Education and put over into MAEP and let it work,” Read told Gallo. “As someone had misread or misquoted, so when we get home we find out they are going to have the awards program now and they don’t have the money for the awards program at the Department of Education. The simple thing would be for MAEP to give the money back to the Department of Education.”
Read, who noted there was some miscommunication, said the situation can be resolved when the Legislature returns in January, just as it did when the Department of Education miscalculated the number of teachers and lawmakers had to fund the deficit appropriation at the start of the 2020 session.
“It’s bad but nobody’s going to lose their money,” Read said. “I can assure you that everyone that’s in the awards program will receive their money.”
House Education chairman Richard Bennett (R) echoed Read’s comments, saying, “The Legislature can provide a deficit appropriation in the future to fund expenses for MDE to continue this program.”
Bennett’s vice chairman, Kent McCarty (R), called it “an unfortunate oversight that we will resolve before any of our hard-working educators are impacted.”
Though we’ve faced some unprecedented budgetary challenges in 2020, we have worked to spare education from the brunt of the cuts that have hit every department & agency. This was an unfortunate oversight that we will resolve before any of our hard-working educators are impacted.
— Rep. Kent McCarty (@KentMcCarty) July 8, 2020