/Put up or shut up’ Mississippi teachers mull strike in wake of ‘insulting’ pay raise, secretive voucher funding move

Put up or shut up’ Mississippi teachers mull strike in wake of ‘insulting’ pay raise, secretive voucher funding move

Mississippi News Nonprofit: Lawmakers concluded the 2019 legislative session by giving public school teachers a $1500 raise. However, many are so upset at the amount they’re considering striking — which Mississippi law explicitly prohibits. Advocates and educators called the increase in pay an insulting gesture by lawmakers during an election year. A bachelor’s degree is required for public school teachers in their first year. The average state salary was $44,926, which is $34,390, without any district supplement. After it was revealed that Republican leaders had slipped $2 million into a bill to fund a program similar in nature to vouchers (which use public funds to send special-needs children to private schools), the anger of educators and advocacy groups grew. “We are not being paid what we are worth. We do more than just hand out worksheets… we also write detention slips. Jennifer Bradford, a middle-school English teacher in Jackson County School District, said that we do so much to help build responsible citizens.” “My job is make sure that I give 100 percent to that child’s future and it’s frustrating for them to not appreciate that.” A post on Facebook called Pay Raise Mississippi Teachers has sparked debate over a possible strike. It received more than 280 comments. This page has nearly 40,000 followers. “It is time to discuss what it takes to organize a teacher strikes,” reads a March 30 post. “It is time to put up, or shut up,” it said. Mississippi Today reached out to the group but they declined to comment. The group has not yet made public statements about when or what the goals of the strike. Although it is obvious that teachers are willing to do something, there isn’t consensus as to what. “We have to find something that the most people will be involved in, so that we can have maximum impact,” reads a separate April 2 blog. Bradford, an eighth-grade English teacher, stated that she doesn’t believe a strike will occur due to the laid-back nature Mississippians. “Our mentality is to be happy and it’s almost like we don’t have the money to strike. She said that she doesn’t have enough money for a strike. Joyce Helmick, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators said that it was not surprising that conversations are being held. Many were upset that they were not included in the process of legislating for teacher pay increases. Helmick stated that there has been “no transparency, no responsiveness or any accountability.” Helmick stated that educators are furious, and have every right to be. The final $1500 pay increase was not disclosed until the conference report was filed late at night on the last day of session. Public access was restricted to meetings in which lawmakers reached this figure. Helmick stated, “When you have tried to approach this process with earnest year-in and year-out, and been ignored, or given a symbolic gesture just to pacify yourself, what other options are there?” In 1985, the Mississippi Teachers went on strike for only the first time. William Allain was the president. According to the New York Times, teachers participated in picketing and walkouts to demand a $3500 increase. Education Week reported that the $4,400 raise was granted by the state Legislature after the wildcat strike ended in March 1985 with more than 9000 teachers leaving the job. Although the strike produced results, it was met with severe consequences: threats of jail time and fines. The Mississippi state law prohibits teachers from striking today. According to the Mississippi state law, a strike is “a concerted failure or willful absence from one’s position, a failure to report for duty, or the stopping of work, or the withholding, whole or in part of, the full, faithful, and proper performance of the duties associated with employment for the purpose or inducing, influencing, or coercing change in the conditions or privileges, obligations, or conditions” of public service. This includes program supervisors, teachers in classrooms, teacher-in, and vocational directors. Teachers and teacher groups are not allowed to encourage a strike. The state law states that school boards must “continue school operations for as long as possible” and report names of students who have not been to school to the office of the state attorney general in the event of a strike. School board members and administrators who fail this task will be charged with a misdemeanor. They can also be fined $100-$250 per day that they do not report. According to the code, those striking will be fired and can’t work in any public school district of the state again “unless a court first finds a need therefor”. Schools in affected areas can apply for an injunction at Hinds County Chancery Court in order to stop the strike. Code states that teacher unions found in violation of the injunction (not standing down) will face a $20,000 fine per day. According to code, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim Hood told Mississippi Today that they cannot opine or speak about a statute. Matthew Steffey, a Mississippi College law professor, stated that teachers would be punished if they violate the law by striking. Steffey stated that teachers do not have the constitutional right to strike. Steffey stated that teachers do not have a constitutional right to strike. The Mississippi Association of Educators was the local affiliate of National Education Association. 22 members of the executive committee were given $250 in fines and a two-day sentence in jail. Archived Clarion Ledger articles show that board members didn’t spend time in jail as they obeyed the injunction of the sentencing judge to stop strikes. Another state law prohibits union organizing. It states that it is illegal for principals, superintendents, and employees licensed to deduct their union dues directly from their salaries. They must instead pay them manually. This strike comes after several teachers in Mississippi walked off the job last year due to poor working conditions. Teachers in West Virginia staged a strike last spring that lasted nearly two weeks. It was ended when the governor granted a five-percent pay increase. Although it is illegal in West Virginia to strike, teachers were supported by their local administrators. According to the Medill News Service, every school district shut down for seven days. The Medill News Service published a story describing the walkouts as “work actions” and not strikes. School days lost were then made up at the close of the school year. According to a 2014 Center for Economic and Policy Research report, teachers can strike in Alaska, California Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois and Minnesota. Only South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming have any laws that govern the legality or inability to strike teachers. All other states, except Mississippi, have laws making it illegal for teachers not to strike. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. 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