June 11, 2020
From MAE President Erica Jones | Legislative Update + Call to Action
This is going to be a long note but it’s an important one. Educator voice has been an integral part of our successes this legislative session, and we still need you.
As I’m sure many of you have heard, the teacher pay raise bill died in committee Tuesday. We are, of course, disappointed — it’s never been more clear how deserving Mississippi educators are of this pay raise and more. It was our hope that the pay raise would pass out of the House as easily as it moved through the Senate, but these are not normal times. And while we wish that the economic challenges facing our state were different, the reality is that it’s not just educators experiencing financial strain right now.
That’s why, with looming economic setbacks, we found ourselves advocating for HB 1139, the community schools bill, and HB 770, the Trauma-Informed Schools Act, with a renewed sense of urgency. Neither bill requires additional funding — they are innovative, strategic ways to rethink what we do with the tools we currently have at our disposal. These bills were essential prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in its wake they are more necessary than ever before.
Unfortunately, despite these bills being passed out of the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, HB 1139 and HB 770 died without being brought up in Senate committee.
As you can imagine, this is not the legislative update I hoped to share with you today. We were incredibly proud of these bills and the immediate, positive impact they would have on our state’s students — especially at a time when inventive solutions to correct the systemic issues plaguing public education in Mississippi are so critically needed.
This spring, summer, and legislative session haven’t been what any of us expected. Luckily, we are educators, and we understand the importance of being able to adapt when things don’t go our way as they so often do in life and in the classroom.
Being an educator and public school advocate is much more than supporting a single piece of legislation or lobbying for a specific policy change. Our goal is to ensure that every single child in Mississippi has an opportunity to succeed. Our job is to fulfill the promise of great public schools in every corner of this state. Inside those schools, we are entrusted with our students’ social and emotional health and academic success. We teach our students to stand up for what is right, and how to be a part of a caring community. We hold those in power to account, and insist that they, like us, keep our students’ well-being at the center of everything they do.
And that’s why we need to talk about one last piece of business for the 2020 legislative session: the state flag.
Educators are charged with ensuring our students feel safe, cared for, and protected in their schools. That is a daunting task under the best of circumstances. When there is a racist relic of the past flying above our schools, it is simply not possible to say we are fulfilling that duty. We would never stand for displaying a symbol of hatred inside of our classrooms. Why should we tolerate it outside of our school buildings, next to the doors our students walk through each and every day?
As any of us would tell our students: don’t be a bystander. Be an upstander. If you know something is wrong, speak up. Don’t stand idly by while people are hurting. That’s why we’re calling on lawmakers to do the right thing by speaking up for all of Mississippi’s students and taking down the state flag.
You can join us by calling your state representative and state senator and asking them to support suspending the rules to allow for a bill to change the flag to be considered. You can also call the lieutenant governor’s office and speaker of the house’s office to voice your support for getting rid of the current flag.
Are we disappointed in how this session ended? Yes. Are we deterred? No. The profound disparities in our public school system exposed by the pandemic aren’t going anywhere. We’ll continue to fight for legislation like community schools and trauma-informed practices until a whole-child approach is a priority for all lawmakers. In the meantime, we will not squander an opportunity to act. It is our duty as educators to continue standing up for our students and advocating for what we know to be right.
Changing the flag is not a partisan issue. This is a matter of right and wrong. This flag is wrong, and it’s time to take it down.