GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - One group is fighting for change for Mississippi’s teachers. Members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Mississippi met Monday in Gulfport for its biennial state convention.
And they wasted no time getting down to business on how to improve education for students in the Magnolia State.
“The problems that we were facing in 1973, we are still fighting those same problems," said AFT state president Geraldine Bender during her opening remarks.
Retired teacher and president of the AFT Gulfport chapter, Candy Boyer, knows that from experience. Twenty-five years of experience, to be exact. She said teachers today are facing the same challenges she faced when she first entered the profession, especially when it comes to pay.
“You look at other professions, and they make big bucks. Teachers, who have to have lots of training, and we don’t get it. So, where’s the fairness of it?" said Boyer.
Boyer says the $1500 pay raise passed by state lawmakers this year is a slap in the face.
The union is fighting back by pushing for changes to Mississippi’s anti-strike laws for teachers, as well as pushing for a change in state leadership.
“We’re looking at the new people that are trying to run, and we’re hoping that we get a new crop with a heart," said Bender.
Bender says it’s time candidates stay true to promises made of increasing the average teacher salary in Mississippi to match the $51,000 southeastern average.
“So, are you going to have a heart and actually do it? Or do you just want to win the election?” asked Bender.
AFT Mississippi will host town hall meetings, starting next week in hopes voters will be well-informed for the August primaries. The first one is in Vicksburg.
“Think about your own children. Think about your own heart, and do they seem to care about the things you care about? And that’s what important," said Bender.
They say what’s best for the state’s students should always be what’s most important.
“We value public education. We value children, and we value teachers that have to educate those children, and so, if public officials decide that education, public education, is a priority, they will find the money to prioritize education," said Tanya Cornell, AFT southern regional director.
The state convention continues through Tuesday. For more information about the labor union, visit the AFT website.