Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has vetoed the bulk of the state public education budget for the new fiscal year that began July 1 because it would have changed a bonus pay plan for some teachers.
More than 150 bills from the Mississippi legislature were due for signature or veto by Governor Reeves this week, including the state’s $2.6 billion public education budget.
House Bill 1700 altered an incentive program that gives extra pay to teachers in schools that show improvement or that are consistently high-performing. Reeves says he vetoed the bill because legislators redirected $26 million from the program to the main operational budget for public school districts.
"If 23,157 teachers are entitled under current law to receive additional pay because they have earned it and that money is not there that isa pay cut for those 23,157 teachers," said Reeves.
The teacher incentive pay program, supported by Reeves when he was lieutenant governor, was created in 2014. Critics of the program say it makes it difficult to recruit teachers to struggling districts in a state that's already experiencing a teacher shortage.
By shifting $26 million from the incentive program, it increased the main operational budget to fund classrooms and teacher salaries statewide by $40 million. The fund, controlled by administrators, is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or MAEP. State law requires it to be fully funded each year but it has only been fully funded twice since lawmakers adopted it in 1997.
Kelly Riley with Mississippi Professional Educators says she believes the bill was an effort to support teachers and districts statewide.
"I think the redirection of the funds was an attempt by the legislature to minimize the cuts to classrooms throughout our state," said Riley." I think it was a preventative cut so as to avoid the elimination of teacher positions in districts throughout the state."
Now lawmakers could either sustain the veto or override it. But because of a coronavirus outbreak at the Capitol, it's uncertain when they will return. At least 26 lawmakers and 10 staffers have tested positive and more cases, according to the state health department as reported Wednesday.