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Mississippi Teachers Union Says Gov. Reeves Downplayed Its Influence During Debate

Tate Reeves speaking at a debate
Gov. Tate Reeves deemphasized the influence of the Mississippi Association of Educators and accused the public teachers union of wanting “to give unlimited resources” to school district administrators during the state’s only gubernatorial debate on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. Screenshot courtesy WAPT

Mississippi’s leading public teachers union is accusing Republican Gov. Tate Reeves of spreading “misinformation” over remarks he made during Wednesday night’s debate downplaying the group’s influence among state educators.

In the debate, Democratic challenger Brandon Presley touted an endorsement he received from the Mississippi Association of Educators for governor on June 26, referring to the group as the “largest group of school teachers across the state.” MAE is affiliated with the National Education Association, the country’s leading teachers union.

Reeves initially confused MAE with the American Federation of Teachers, which is the nation’s second-largest teachers union, before dismissing its clout among educators.

“Mississippi Association of Educators is an organization comprised of just less than 2,000 people,” the incumbent governor told viewers during the debate. “There are almost 40,000 teachers throughout the state of Mississippi. So when he says that this teacher’s union is supportive of him, that literally leaves out 95% of teachers that understand that we’ve invested in public education,” Reeves said.

But the nonpartisan teachers union disputed the governor’s claims about its membership numbers in a statement Thursday.

“Governor Reeves’ statement that our membership stands at 2,000 individuals spread across the state is not accurate. We are proud to represent nearly 8,000 members dedicated to the success of public schools across our state,” MAE Communications Director Pam Johnson’s statement said. “Additionally, through our Raise Mississippi campaign aimed at ensuring that every student has access to the resources they need to succeed, we have heard from hundreds of business leaders, parents and community members on how to strengthen our schools and, in turn, our economy and the quality of life in Mississippi.”

MAE’s membership includes teachers, higher-education faculty and staff, education support professionals, retired educators and college students preparing to become teachers.

During the debate, Reeves claimed MAE “wants to give unlimited resources” to district administrators and that he prefers “to invest money into teacher salaries.” MAE has long advocated for pay raises for educators, however.

MAE recently launched the Raise Mississippi campaign to advocate for what the group calls “smart funding” for public education focused on student access to in-school support, up-to-date technology and classroom materials, healthy school lunches, safe and clean buildings, and competitive teacher wages.

“We officially endorsed Brandon Presley because our members believe in his strong commitment to prioritizing the public schools that educate 90% of Mississippi’s children,” Johnson said in Thursday’s statement, citing Presley’s support for the Raise Mississippi initiative.

In 2022, Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill giving Mississippi teachers an average $5,140 pay raise. MAE attributed the accomplishment at the time to “years of work by MAE members, legislators, education advocates, parents and public-school communities.”

Editor’s Note: Pam Johnson is a member of the Mississippi Free Press advisory board. This does not affect our reporting.

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