Below is a political opinion column by Adam Ganucheau:
Senate Republican leaders shocked the state on February 28 when they announced their intention to fully fund Mississippi’s public school formula for the third time since 2003.
Just minutes before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the proposal on March 7, Gov. Tate Reeves took to Twitter with an eyebrow-raising warning to lawmakers.
“Be very wary of a last-minute change in the funding formula that seems to have unanimous support from Senate Democrats and liberal activist groups. Very, very careful,” Reeves tweeted, followed by his office sending his tweet to reporters as an official press statement. “Instead of funneling more money to county offices – where our kids won’t see it – why not another pay rise for teachers? Put it in the classroom!”
A little over an hour later, the Republican Senate majority, apparently unfazed by the words of their Republican leader, voted unanimously to do exactly the opposite of what Reeves had warned. Every single Republican and Democrat in the Senate voted with virtually no debate to streamline the education funding formula and fully fund public schools.
The Senate plan, which would help local school districts cover basic costs like materials, construction costs and, yes, teachers’ salaries, would require the state to send an additional $181 million annually to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The proposal comes as Mississippi sits on a record $3.9 billion in revenue surplus, and more than $1 billion of that is recurring.
The policy of resisting full funding for public education during an election year is questionable at best. Even more troublesome for Reeves, his unsolicited tweeting dredged up his controversial tally on one of the biggest political issues of any campaign.
Reeves appears, on this issue at least, to be completely at odds with Mississippi voters, including his Republican base. A new Siena College/Mississippi Today poll released today shows a whopping 79% of Mississippi residents — including 73% of the Republicans polled — believe the legislature should fully fund public schools this session.
Democrat Brandon Presley, who is drawing all sorts of state and national attention later this year for his political advantage over Reeves in the gubernatorial race, immediately pounced. As one longtime politician texted later that day, “I heard they have a field day in Nettleton today,” referring to Presley’s hometown.
“I commend both Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate for unanimously joining forces across party lines to better fund our schools,” Presley tweeted shortly after the Senate vote. “As usual, Tate Reeves is now attacking this bipartisan effort and playing politics again. Tate Reeves has shown time and time again that he cares more about HIS political career than about OUR students. He will not lead. As governor, I will do that.”
Reeves’ tweet leads astute political observers to recall Reeves’ many blue eyes from his action (or inaction) on issues related to public education. If you’re interested in reminiscing, here are just a few of those moments:
In his eight years as lieutenant governor, when he had significant influence over the state budget, Reeves raised teachers’ salaries only twice — both during election years. And those raises were so marginal that education groups and teachers publicly slammed them with descriptions like “a joke”; “insufficient”; “slap in the face”: “offensive”; and “another symbolic gesture in election year”. His March 7 tweet indicated that current lawmakers are considering another pay rise for teachers. Needless to say, that wasn’t all that well received. The governor emphasized in his March 7 tweet that the Senate’s efforts to get full funding came “at the last minute.” But apparently no one has forgotten what is perhaps the most infamous “last minute” leader in modern political history regarding education-related moves. When Reeves was lieutenant governor, he famously snuck $2 million in private school vouchers into an unrelated budget in election year 2019, drawing the widespread ire of every single public education group. In 2017, Reeves and other Legislature leaders attempted and failed to rewrite the state’s funding formula for public education. A majority of Republican senators shot down Reeves’ plan in broad daylight. Shortly after the Senate vote, Reeves got pissed and blamed reporters: “I know you’re all smiling broadly today. You worked really hard to kill that and you were very, very successful at it.” Reeves has seldom publicly discussed the failed paraphrase attempt since, and he has neither attempted nor suggested another paraphrase attempt. In Reeves’ last five years as lieutenant governor, the Legislature underfunded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program by $1.06 billion, according to data compiled by The Parents’ Campaign. Since 2008, MAEP has been underfunded by $3.35 billion under the same measures, including the worst stretch from 2012 to 2020 – the eight years that Reeves was Senate chairman. From 2015 to 2019, his final four years as Lieutenant Governor, Mississippi’s public education budgets were cut by $173.5 million ($102 million cut for colleges, $40 million cut for K-12 education, $32 million for community colleges). Several teacher-loan-forgiveness programs in 2016 were cut so drastically by the Reeves-led Legislature that they were forced to stop teacher-loan forgiveness. “I really thought, ‘Well, my state isn’t really on my side here,'” said a teacher from northern Mississippi. And how quickly we forget one of the biggest political mistakes of modern politics. In 2019, late in his heated run for governor with Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, Reeves released a television ad announcing his plan to raise public school teacher salaries. There was just one problem: most of the commercial was filmed in a private school and featured several private school teachers. This private school, then a little-known institution, is now one of the most well-known schools in the state for all the wrong reasons. Reeves shot the ad at the New Summit School, which is owned by welfare and education scammers Nancy and Zach New, who were Reeves’ 2019 campaign donors.
It remains unclear what Reeves thought he was doing with his March 7 social media warning to lawmakers and his effective trolling of the Senate’s full funding proposal.
The Senate plan now moves to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders must decide whether to heed Reeves’ warning. But legislative Democrats like Presley are already seizing the moment to apply pressure.
“That grant would be less than 5% of our nearly $4 billion surplus, and he still doesn’t want to spend it on Mississippi public school students,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, the Democratic House Speaker. “If we’re in the best financial shape in our state’s history, as the governor so often reminds us, why should we have to choose? If he’s not interested in investing in public education now, will he ever be?
Johnson continued, “If House Republicans and Tate Reeves think keeping $181 million from going to our public schools while they are on a surplus of $4 billion is a winning strategy for an election year Cancel US dollars then good luck to them.”
But soon we’ll get some clarity on what Reeves’ questionable attitude is — effectively, “I know we have more money than ever, but let’s not send additional funds to our ever-struggling public schools during this major election year” — will affect his efforts to win another term at the Governor’s Mansion.
— Article credit to Adam Ganucheau of Mississippi Today —