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In an effort to defend Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, whose school choice record has drawn criticism from educators, Gov. Phil Bryant dismissed Mississippi’s largest statewide teacher group as not representative “of the majority of the hardworking teachers in Mississippi.”
Bryant can’t seek re-election and Reeves is running for governor with Bryant’s endorsement.
Bryant on social media on Thursday inaccurately referred to the group, which has no union ties, as a union.
“I never had their support running for Governor nor did I want it,” Bryant wrote.
The governor was commenting on a post from the 13,500-member Mississippi Professional Educators. The post was describing a large number of educators exiting the room as Reeves gave remarks at the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents conference in Biloxi.
A spokesperson for Bryant did not immediately respond to the Clarion Ledger’s request for comment.
“He totally dismissed and disrespected the education profession when he said he did not need or want their support,” said MPE Executive Director Kelly Riley. “An overarching comment on social media was that it’s a prime example of the lack of respect by our state Legislature for our educators. Educators are sick and tired and fed up of being disrespected, of not being consulted.”
Riley said the organization encourages civic engagement among its members with voter registration deadline reminders. The group also shared responses from several gubernatorial candidates, including Reeves, to its candidates’ questionnaire.
Bryant’s criticism comes ahead of a Republican primary where education is likely to be a key issue for voters.
As of Friday afternoon, Bryant’s account had not responded to push-back explaining MPE’s reason for not endorsing him: The organization is a non-profit, actively supporting political candidates would put its tax-exempt status at risk.
Although Bryant recently signed a $1,500 across the board teacher pay raise, stating “good teachers can change the trajectory of a student’s life forever,” his post is the most recent flare up in a long line of them between Bryant and teacher groups advocating for higher pay and other policies.
In 2015, Bryant, while slamming House members who voted to delay legislation that would hold back third-graders who do not pass the state’s reading test, referred to the state’s public education system as “an abysmal failure.”
His campaign against a proposed constitutional amendment to force lawmakers to fully fund public schools and his promotion of a program publicly funding special needs education in private schools has also drawn the ire of some rank-and-file legislators.
In his final state-of-the-state address, Bryant offered softer reflections, praising the state’s teachers as “critical guardians of Mississippi’s future” and calling for lawmakers to pass a teacher pay raise.
Gubernatorial candidates State Attorney General Jim Hood, former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller and Rep. Rob Foster, also spoke at Thursday’s event.
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