Governor Tate Reeves says the parts of the state education budget he vetoed was not a technicality, as some legislative leaders would have you believe, and that if he had not acted, calling attention to the issue, over 23,000 teachers would have lost money in their paychecks.

At issue is the School Recognition Program which Governor Reeves has been a strong advocate for dating back to its inception when he was then Lt. Governor.  He maintains that the program is one of the reasons Mississippi has made great strides in improving its educational outcomes in recent years.

“I believe that conservative educations reforms have been critical to seeing improved educational attainment levels by our citizens,” Reeves told Paul Gallo on SuperTalk Radio Tuesday morning, adding, “Part of that reform was the School Recognition Program.”

Last week, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann also appeared on Gallo’s show.  He said instead of vetoing the budget Governor Reeves could have sought to resolve the issue in a similar manner as last year’s oversight when lawmakers authorized a pay increase for teachers but were provided with incorrect data by MDE leaving the funding short. The Legislature remedied that shortfall in January 2020 when they convened for the new session.

“Now our teachers are going back but they don’t have any authorization by the state of Mississippi to get paid,” said Hosemann. “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.”

But Reeves says that while the intent of the 2019 pay increase was evident and the oversight was not that of the Legislature’s making, this episode “was not at all a mistake.”

“This [program] has been a fight with the Democrats for a long time,” Reeves told Gallo. “They don’t like it. They fought against it. They think that that money ought to be given to the administrators.”

The Governor went on explain why the legislative intent was in question.

“On this particular piece of legislation we have a tweet from the vice chairman of Education in the Senate, a Democrat, which that’s a story into itself I would presume, but the vice chairman, a Democrat, of the Education Committee has tweeted out right after the session, ‘We convinced the Republican leadership to end this failed program.’

“I don’t know who’s not telling the truth but if the Democrat vice chairman of Education says that they convinced the GOP leadership to kill it, then there were members of the Lt. Governor’s staff that were telling Republican Senators that it was not a mistake, it was intentional.

“Now all of sudden when Republicans across the state are revolting, and teachers, Republicans and Democrats alike, across the state are revolting, all of a sudden now they’ve decided it was a technicality and that they can easily fix it.

“Well, I just couldn’t take that chance. When it’s nearly $30 million and 23,157 teachers have their paychecks on the line, I’m sorry I just can’t wait for a letter, I got to do what’s right for those teachers and it was evident it was not at all a mistake.”

Reeves is referencing state Senator David Blount.  The Democrat from Senate District 29 is the vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee. His tweet from July 7th read, “GOP legislative leadership ended this failed program and put the money back into education. That’s what Mississippians want and expect.”

State Sen. Blount followed the tweet above with a retweet of The Parents Campaign, a left leaning lobbying group who has opposed the School Recognition Program, where they stated, “Money from the School Recognition Program did not go into the general ed budget – it was moved into the MAEP – protecting SALARIES for ALL teachers to avoid cuts/layoffs in a very tight budget year. The MAEP funds teachers and classrooms statewide.”

In the interview this morning, Governor Reeves outlined where the teacher incentive dollars were allocated when Gallo said those funds were not directed to other programs.

“That is untrue. That is not accurate. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program increased,” Reeves asserted.

The Governor continued, saying:

“Now every agency in state government took a budget cut, right? My office took a 5% budget cut and I’m not here to complain.

“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 year over year which I’m generally supportive of but it took an increase because they took money from the School Recognition Program and they put it in the MAEP formula.

“So they took money that was intended to pay for teachers’ salaries to the tune of nearly $30 million and they gave it to the administrators in MAEP.” 

Reeves gave no indication as to when he would call lawmakers back to address the education budget in a special session.  The constitutional provisions associated with the Department of Education allow it to operate in the interim.  If no special session is called before October, legislators could address it when they return for COVID-19 related issues.

You can hear the full interview with Governor Reeves on SuperTalk here.