Tuesday, August 15, 2023, the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) held a press conference to announce its latest initiative, which it referred to as “Raise Mississippi.” At its headquarters on State Street under a banner with a motto, “Raise Our Students. Raise Our Economy,” MAE featured a panel of supporters to set forth its program. During the 10 a.m. press event, each panelist initially spoke briefly, but remained poised and prepared for questions and follow-up comments.
As state president of the association, Erica Webber Jones was the first speaker. After indicating that she was a mother of two and a second-grade teacher as well as MAE president, Jones stressed the fact that more than 90% of the school children in the state attended public schools. She also made the point that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) had been fully funded only twice since it was implemented nearly 30 years ago. Her vision and that of the association is that of each school having adequate staff, including nurses, counselors, and other personnel; each having adequate technology, textbooks, and materials; and each with a sufficient number of qualified and dedicated teachers.
Jones was followed by Graham Carner, who identified himself as a parent of public schooler and as an attorney living in Clinton. In addition to supporting Jones’ position, he stressed wanting the best for his and other public school children. He also discussed the importance of diversity in the schools.
Michael Hodges of the AFL/CIO then echoed the sentiments of the project. In his comments he expressed the need for the development of an adequate or skilled work force to keep the economy strong. The fact that the school districts are usually the largest employers in their areas helped to buttress his point.
The fourth speaker, Oleta Fitzgerald, represented the Children’s Defense Fund. She spoke of the importance of public schools to the physical and mental well-being of the child. Strong public schools with healthy children, she insisted, are the foundation of society.
Fifthly, Leroy Walker identified himself as a businessperson. True to form, he stressed the importance of societal investment in public schools for economic development. He issued a call for greater investments in the public schools and support for the public schools.
The final panelist to speak was Rev. Sue Keen Hyland, Associate Pastor of Wells United Methodist Church. She linked faith and the ability to dream to the strength of the public school, declaring her support for the schools, as they have produced others such as herself.
As the question-and-answer period unfolded, MAE revealed that it and its partners plan to be active in every county and school district between now and the 2024 legislative session. They intend to lobby the legislature for the full funding of MAEP, with special attention to funds for the classrooms. For them, funding for the classroom must be the highest priority.
Questions were raised regarding conversations with the Mississippi Department of Education, the state’s colleges of education, and the Mississippi School Boards Association. Indications were that they intend to leave no stones unturned.
During the question-and-answer session, Hodges and Fitzgerald, in particular, drew attention to the fact that millions of dollars had been allocated for broadband connectivity in many areas of the state and that should greatly benefit the schools. Fitzgerald also commented on the difficulty in achieving equity funding for the districts across the state, although there were efforts being made to secure such.
On display during the press conference was quite a bit of enthusiasm on the part of MAE and the partners who were present. The success of the initiative, however, will obviously depend upon how broadly MAE’s message is spread and upon the will of those who are elected to the legislature this fall.