Unbelievable! Unethical, Last-minute Voucher Debacle

Posted 3/28/19

We had been told that Lt. Governor Reeves was intent on getting an increase in voucher funding approved, despite strong objections in both chambers. Late this afternoon, it was discovered that Senate conferees had sneaked $2-million in additional voucher funds into a unrelated agency conference report in SB 3049. The voucher language was not included in the earlier version of the bill; it was secretly inserted at the last minute. Conferees never revealed the change to legislators in either chamber, and it was adopted.

This reprehensible behavior violates the most basic ethical standards. Tell your legislators this is not the kind of government we want!

Sen. David Blount and Rep. Jay Hughes have held the bill on a motion to reconsider in each chamber, so your legislators will have an opportunity to demonstrate their own ethics and insist that the voucher funding be removed from SB 3049.

We are hearing that both Reeves and Speaker Gunn have advised their members not to recommit the bill. Please call them both when the Capitol phone lines open at 8:00 a.m. and tell them to:

REMOVE THE VOUCHER FUNDING IN SB 3049!

Lt. Governor Tate Reeves: 601.359.3200

House Speaker Philip Gunn: 601.359.3300

Ask your own legislators to:

RECOMMIT SB 3049 TO REMOVE ANY VOUCHER FUNDING!

Capitol Switchboard: 601.359.3770

Additional contact info for legislators

Earlier in the day, both chambers passed the public school funding bill and a $1,500 pay raise for teachers and teacher assistants. A number of legislators fought hard to increase the amount of the pay raise.

Both the House and Senate had the opportunity to vote on motions to recommit the teacher pay raise conference report to increase the raise from $1,500 to $4,000. You can see those votes here: House   Senate

Thank you to Sen. Derrick Simmons and Rep. David Baria for offering the motions and speaking passionately on behalf of higher pay for teachers. The motions failed in both chambers, and the $1,500 pay raise prevailed.

The entire pay raise will go into effect in the 2019-2020 school year, with teachers across the board getting the $1,500 bump, less than $100 a month after taxes. Ours will still be by far the lowest paid teachers in the nation. Teacher assistants will see their minimum salary increase to $14,000, plus any additional supplement offered by the local school district.

The education committee chairs report that the K-12 appropriation covers the full cost of the pay raise. It appears that the MAEP will be underfunded next year by around $250-million, even worse than the current year. We will let you know when we get an official underfunding number from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Additionally, HB 1643, the appropriation bill, provides:
• level funding for teacher/classroom supplies
• a $170,000 increase for pre-k collaboratives
• level funding for the literacy program
• full funding of the National Board Certified Teacher program
• full funding of the Chickasaw Cession
• a $260,000 decrease in the School Recognition Program
• no increase in voucher funding

Thank you to House Education Chairman Richard Bennett and Vice Chairman Rob Roberson who stood strong against the Senate leadership's push to add voucher language to conference reports. Chairman Bennett even asked the Legislative Budget Office staff to search all appropriations bills for additional voucher funding that might have been sneaked into a bill. Today's voucher end-run happened despite their best efforts.

We'll keep you posted on how your legislators vote on the voucher funding debacle. Watch for that vote report. Our children are counting on us, and together, we've got this!