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Education bill gets mixed reaction: Potential teacher pay raises cause conflict

The Mississippi House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 957, and, if signed into law, the measure would change the way schools receive state funding.

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak, a Bogue Chitto attorney, is one of HB 957’s most outspoken critics. He claims the legislation’s new funding formula amounts to a sequence of “smoke and mirrors.”

“They’re telling a lot of these school districts that, in the first few years of this new formula, the districts will receive more funding than they did with MAEP,” he said. “On its face, their promise is true. Except, they’ll have to find $107 million to fund the new program, and they don’t have that kind of money.”

Meanwhile, most of the bill’s supporters believe it will help public schools balance their yearly budgets and put an end to any lingering uncertainty surrounding the subsidization of public education.

“Anybody will be able to take the new formula, apply the base rate for each student and figure out what each school is going to get,” Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven, who represents Franklin, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Lincoln and Pike counties said. “It’s very transparent.”

Since HB 957 received approval from the House, a great deal of public criticism has been levied on the representatives who supported its passage.

“We had a bill designed to change the formula of how the state funds public education, and that was all it was supposed to do,” Mangold said. “Then, our Democratic colleagues attempted to add 18 or 19 amendments to the bill.”

Mangold explained that Republican lawmakers voted each of the proposed amendments down in order to preserve the legislation’s integrity.

“When amendments are added, you lose the intended purpose of the original bill,” he said.

One of the recommended changes would have offered public school teachers a $2,500 pay increase. Mangold said he and most of his Republican colleagues were obliged to strike the amendment down as a means of safeguarding HB 957’s wording.

“If anybody deserves a pay raise, it’s our teachers,” Mangold said. “And if a bill affording them a raise comes through the House, I’m in.”

According to Mangold, the proposed amendments were just ploys used by state Democrats to subvert the positive aspects of HB 957. But Moak said Democratic lawmakers were merely trying to contribute to the legislative process.

“This is what happens when the Republicans don’t hold subcommittee and committee meetings to vet the issues contained in a piece of legislation before it comes to a vote,” Moak said. “When you bring a measure out on the day of a vote, you’re going to have a healthy amendment process, because that’s the only way for people to offer up changes that otherwise would have been made during a committee meeting.”

HB 957 now rests in the hands of the Senate, and Moak foresees the upper chamber making several changes to the measure before it receives a final vote.

“Republican leadership doesn’t care about public education,” Moak said. “So, why should they fund it?”