‘Hell hath no fury …’

Bill Miles

There’s an old saying in Mississippi political talk that “school teachers can’t elect you but they can beat you.” Maybe that’s why a little more respect is being shown by the 2020 folks in the state capitol. Last week the senate unanimously approved a $1,000 next year pay increase for the overworked, often abused professionals who spend more waking hours with our youngsters than the adults who have them at home. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (rightfully I think) is getting high marks for what happened in the body over which he presides. While I don’t think this token pay hike will get teachers where they ought to be, it’s a laudable gesture. The fact that nobody had the guts to record their vote against the bill is telling. Usually politicians promise to support teachers and schools but succumb to pressure from leaders and money lobbyists who want the funds to go elsewhere. Now, before we allow our elected officials and public education advocates to break their wrists patting themselves on the back, let me warn you. The ill winds of March have not arrived. That’s when money bills are settled. They come in the final days of a session. Will our elected representatives “stand tall” or fall? As one who was there and never apologized for being a supporter of teachers at all levels and public education from birth to death, I know the pitfalls. I was part of the body that enacted MAEP. Few know what that acronym means today. It simply put into code what we believe the constitution declared, that “every child deserves the opportunity to learn”. I voted “yea” every time the program has been fully funded. Since I left, ironically it has not been again. It’s not just because I left. I and too many of my pals came home. At the beginning of my second term in the House we approved a whooping teacher pay increase. Last year by pulling teeth and mobilizing ballistic missiles teachers got a $1,500 increase. You do recollect that it was an election year, don’t you? We’ll see how long the memory of promise makers in 2019 lasts or the patience of voters. When MAEP was passed House Education Committee Chair Billy McCoy said it put Mississippi on a path where local school districts regardless of property values could guarantee “adequate” not “perfect” opportunities in the public schools. We know that dream was not realized. There’s probably enough blame for everybody to own a piece. Like the old saying, “Success has a thousand fathers. Defeat is illegitimate.” During Chamber discussion in the House that year I recall a couple of Northeast Mississippi representatives who publicly opposed the measure. One was defeated outright. The other was defeated as he tried to advance to a state-wide post. A tactic used in a last ditch effort to thwart the measure was an amendment offered for a large “teacher pay increase which the opponent knew could not be fulfilled. He hoped that he’d escape the wrath of teachers. Fortunately educators lined up behind the overall measure even though it did not make their paychecks automatically higher. They rallied for the “greater good”. Just giving teachers more money does not guarantee that our children will be smarter and get better paying jobs or stay near to home when they become adults. But it sends a message that we’re not going to stay mired in the mud that has bewildered our ancestors and frustrated visionaries. Consider the headlines of recent days where allegedly responsible people are accused of stealing from taxpayers’ funds (state, local and federal) that were intended to benefit the ‘neediest among us’. “Hell hath no fury like that of an aroused electorate when it finally accepts that it has been duped.”

If you would like to contact Bill Miles you can email him at bill.t.miles@gmail.com

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