Both House Bill 958 (Snowden) and House Bill 49 (Moore) are attempts on the part of our Mississippi Legislature to silence educators, superintendents, and school board members from making complaints to their representatives and from voicing their opinions on education policies to the public.
Answer me this: What gives the state of Mississippi the authority to take away our First Amendment rights, provided to us by the United States Constitution?
Yes, I am an educator. Yes, I have an opinion on politics that affect education. Yes, many of the legislators might not be fans of my opinion. Does this give them the right to try to silence my voice? Absolutely not!
Pretend what you will, but we all know this attempt at silencing is in response to the push for Initiative 42 by public educators. Because we tried to speak out and make the public hold the state government accountable for funding education, the legislators are now limiting when and what we can say in regards to politics. To defend the reasoning behind his proposed bill on Facebook, Rep. Greg Snowden said, Politick on your own time and your own dime, but not on the taxpayers’ dime and time. It’s really that simple. Okay. I can see their intentions there. Except that I can’t. Because, answer me this: What other profession is a bill such as this imposed against? Only educators? Hmmm. Since when does my job title limit the rights I am granted under the U.S. Constitution? Because, just so you know, education wasn’t my first career. Never, during my years of working in respiratory care, was I ever given restrictions for when and where I could voice my opinions on political issues regarding health care reform or any other legislation. Is this an attack on educators specifically, or are we just the beginning of the gradual retraction of American rights by our state governments?
And, what about where both bills prohibit school superintendents and board members from “lobbying the legislature for policy change”? Let me just tell you, if my school superintendent and board members weren’t “lobbying the legislature for policy change” that could benefit my district, I would have a problem with them. As it is, I have a problem with these legislators who think they can stop school leaders from doing their jobs by taking away their First Amendment rights. Men and women have fought, bled, and died to defend our right to freedom of speech, and now Mississippi legislators think they can limit those rights, one profession at a time, in an attempt to give themselves more power? Shame on you, Mississippi! Maybe instead of asking “What gives them the authority?”, I should’ve asked “How dare they?”
Answer me this: Where is the line drawn between educator and parent?
Legislators want to restrict when and how I voice my opinions on political policies. But where do they draw the line between me reaching out as an educator or as a parent? I am an educator, I am a parent, and I am a Mississippi resident. As an educator, I see where struggles with education exist and have ideas on how to overcome those struggles to better our state’s education system. And as an educator, it is my responsibility to be an advocate for my students and my school. As a parent, I want my child to receive the best education possible. And as a parent, it is my responsibility to be an advocate for my child and his future by fighting to save our state’s public school system from destruction by politicians. As a Mississippi resident, I am fed up with seeing my state ranked last in the important categories (such as education) and first in all the bad ones. And as a Mississippi resident, it is my responsibility to be an advocate for changes that promote improvement in our state, not ones that further restrict the rights of free citizens with no gain except for government control.
Answer me this: Why are educators being targeted?
Answer me this: What does the legislature hope to gain by passing either or both of these bills?
Answer me this: How does either of these two bills improve education in our state?
If you are truly interested in the betterment of our state’s education system, why are you attempting to stifle the voices of those with education experience rather than encouraging them to speak out and provide insight about what is needed to improve our public schools?
Answer me that, Reps. Snowden and Moore!
Southern Penny is a teacher in Mississippi and is a guest blogger for the Mississippi Education Blog.