MAE leads a push for improved funding for state’s public schools

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On January 4, MAE and Raise Mississippi supporters stood together on the Capitol Green to emphasize the importance of a stronger statewide public school system, ensuring students of today will become the skilled workforce of tomorrow and remain lifelong Mississippians. MAE leader and local teacher George Stewart shared his thoughts on the matter. (Advocate photos: Joshua Martin)

Despite bomb threats on the State Capitol Building, a broad coalition, led by the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE), held a news conference/rally on the northside of the building, bordered by the Walter Sillers and Carroll Gartin buildings on Thursday, Jan. 4. The event was staged from noon to 1 p.m., catching legislators who were arriving on a lunch break or for an afternoon meeting.

There was an impressive and inclusive line-up of speakers on hand to make the case for improved public school funding. The group was led by MAE President Erica Jones, who has piloted the Raise Mississippi initiative since its inception last summer. 

Following President Jones, and representing state legislators, was State Senator Derrick Simmons of Greenville. Several other legislators were present to visibly show their support for public education and the Raise Mississippi initiative. Another elected official who was on hand, representing supportive municipalities, was Natchez’s Mayor Dan Gibson. 

Aside from elected officials, business executive Leroy Walker voiced support from the business community; longtime civil rights activist and retired educator Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis was there to speak on behalf of community organizations who feel the need for stronger public schools; and Dr. Catherine Robinson reflected on her role as the parent of a Jackson Public School student in order to illustrate the need for more state support for public education. Those three spoke directly to lawmakers as clear beneficiaries of strong public schools.

Perhaps the most emotional and challenging in the call for legislative support was Mississippi AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President Chris Gray Sr., who concentrated on the economic needs of the teachers, the students, and the schools that can be better impacted by fully funding public schools. His remarks were followed by those of Rev. Sue Hyland and Rev. Barron Banks, who both reflected on the church’s interest in stronger public schools. 

Representing the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, Emilee Shell concentrated on the contrast between funding for predominately white and predominantly Black school districts and the crippling effect that has on the community as a whole. The line-up was concluded with supportive remarks from Jackson MAE President George Stewart and State MAE Executive Director Dr. Antonio Castanon Luna, who both spoke on the things that Raise Mississippi can do to help citizens realize the dream about which many had spoken.

Although the eleven scheduled speakers came from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, they reflected many common themes. Among other things, they were petitioning the state legislature to (1) fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP); (2) provide another teacher pay raise since other states are continuing to compete for excellent teachers, since many teachers are working two jobs to make ends meet, and since many of them are simply leaving the profession for better paying jobs; (3) appropriate funds for more teaching resources; (4) change the laws that are enabling charter schools to defund public education; (5) support funding that improves nutrition, health care, and other services which help advance student academic achievement; and (6) appropriate more funds to help provide safe, clean, and modern buildings in every school district. Also not lost in all of the discussion was the point made by several speakers that too many districts receive too little from the state, causing the local residents to be either overburdened or do without significant resources, including decent teachers’ salaries.

Leaders of the coalition promise that this is not the end of their lobbying efforts. Monitoring and other tactics are in their plans as the legislative session unfolds. 

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MAE leads a push for improved funding for state’s public schools

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
January 15, 2024