Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Despite historic investment into Mississippi’s education system, including a record teacher pay raise under Tate Reeves, the Mississippi Association of Educators is putting its energy into unseating the sitting governor.
Earlier this year, the Mississippi Association of Educators endorsed Democratic candidate for governor Brandon Presley. Last week, text messages went out to Mississippians offering to pay them to join MAE knocking doors for Presley.
Copies of the text messages received by Magnolia Tribune read:
Hey (name redacted)! This is Jared with the Mississippi Association of Educators. We will be knocking on doors to elect Brandon Presley on Saturday, Oct. 21st at 10am and 1p.m. This is a paid opportunity. Will you join us? Stop to opt out.
MAE would not confirm the validity of the text message. When asked whether they were canvassing for Presley and how much door knockers would be paid, MAE responded with the following:
Thank you for reaching out and for your continued interest in our organization’s work. The Mississippi Association of Educators is committed to advancing the vision of advocating for strong public schools that benefit every student. Our mission centers on empowering our members and fostering parental and community involvement in the educational process. As part of that mission, we actively engage and educate voters on the issues affecting our public schools throughout the year including the legislative session and election season.
Also included in the response was a link to the organization’s website with a list of candidates MAE is urging their members to support, which includes Presley.
MAE is one of the state’s teachers unions. Formed in 1878, MAE claims to be “the oldest and most powerful education association in the state of Mississippi.” MAE’s parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), is one of the nation’s leading education lobbying groups, with deep ties to supporting national Democratic-backed policies and candidates.
There have been considerable questions raised about whether teachers unions really speak for teachers and their students in recent years–particularly as unions pushed for prolonged school closings during COVID.
In June of this year, the Washington Examiner published an article outlining new data reported by the Illinois Policy Institute. The report states that in 2022, the NEA spent more on politics than it did on representing its members.
“NEA prioritized politics over teachers in 2022, spending $41.6 million on ‘political activities and lobbying’ and just $37.9 million on representing teachers. Its political spending included more than $13.2 million to NEA’s own ‘advocacy fund.’ Once funds are transferred, NEA members have no say in how or on what causes those funds are spent,” the Illinois Policy Institute report states. “NEA also spent an additional $119.6 million on ‘contributions, gifts and grants’ – three times more than it spent on representational activities.
Included in NEA’s spending report was:
- $500,000 to Building Back Together, the organization “advanc[ing] the policy agenda of the Biden-Harris Administration”
- $300,000 to America Votes, the “coordination hub of the progressive community”
- $270,000 to Democracy Alliance, an organization seeking to “advance progressive policy reforms”
- $225,000 to State Innovation Exchange, which equips legislators to “move bold, progressive public policy”
- $150,000 to Progressive Caucus Action Fund, which publishes a “progressive playbook”
NEA’s website includes in its “advocacy victory” section a number of items seemingly unrelated to education, including passage of election reforms and marriage equality laws, as well as the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Kentaji Brown Jackson.
In Mississippi, MAE takes credit for at least two significant education reforms passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves.
MAE’s website indicates: “Together we won historic funding: $100 million for our schools & students.” The group also touts, “Mississippi teachers secure largest pay raise in state history” in a report from NEA titled, “State Legislative Victories Show the Power of Educators.”
The additional $100 million in state funding came after an agreement was reached between Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn in the waning days of the 2023 session. Both Hosemann and Gunn are Republicans. Both preside over supermajority Republican chambers.
Hosemann said at the time that the funds would provide for local supplements for teachers, classroom supplies, diesel for buses, “and all the other things necessary to providing every child in Mississippi with an opportunity for a first-class education.” Gunn added that “the additional $100 million will allow schools to do whatever they need, except for increases in administrative salaries.”
As for the teacher pay raise, Governor Reeves, Lt. Governor Hosemann, and Speaker Gunn all actively called for and backed the effort to raise teacher pay in the 2022 session. In his State of the State that year, Reeves identified the teacher pay raise as a top priority.
“When it comes to delivering a quality education for our kids, we are getting the job done,” said Governor Reeves at the bill signing. “These pay raises will help cement Mississippi’s competitive footing to not only incentivize educators to stay in our state, but also to proactively recruit people to move here and teach in our communities. This legislation is a stake in the ground that proudly declares Mississippi’s enduring commitment to supporting our educators and our education system, and I am ecstatic to sign it into law.”
But these legislative efforts to improve education investments and outcomes appears to not have won over MAE. The majority of MAE candidate endorsements this election cycle, and in previous cycles, have gone to Democratic candidates, including gubernatorial hopeful Presley.
Presley, the current Northern District Public Service Commissioner, has never held a position that would allow him to influence Mississippi’s education system or its funding.
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