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Rallies for state workers' pay raise and against Common Core set on 1st day of Miss. session

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JACKSON, Mississippi — As Mississippi lawmakers begin their three-month session at noon Tuesday, they will be greeted by groups trying to influence state policy on education standards, state employee pay raises and a host of other issues.

People pushing a pay raise for all state employees are planning to gather at the Capitol on opening day, as is a separate group opposed the state's current academic standards.

The state Board of Education adopted the current Common Core academic standards and defends them. It's unclear if the Legislature will change the standards.

Also uncertain is whether lawmakers will grant pay raises to all state employees. Raises for teachers are promised, and Gov. Phil Bryant is requesting a pay increase for state troopers.

Most legislators are seeking re-election this fall, and a widespread pay raise would be popular with state employees, who are usually an active group of voters.

"This is an election year. We want to let them know public workers vote," Brenda Scott, president of the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees, said Monday. Scott said she expects members of teachers' groups, other labor unions and civil rights groups to join MASE in lobbying to increase pay for Mississippi government workers, who earn, on average, thousands less than their peers in surrounding states.

"We don't want the budget balanced on the backs of public workers and the services they provide," Scott said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said Monday that he has heard some legislative leaders discuss the possibility of giving all state employees a pay raise, but it's too soon to know whether the state can afford to do it.

"Maybe we'll look at it. I don't know," Frierson said.

In an expected $6.2 billion budget, legislators face hundreds of millions of dollars in requests to put more money into education, Medicaid and other programs. Frierson said budget writers want to see if state tax collections continue to exceed expectations the next couple of months.

Mississippi is among the majority of states that have adopted Common Core standards, which establish what students should learn in English and math, while leaving curriculum decisions to state and local boards.

One of the organizers of the anti-Common Core rally, Brandie Correro of DeSoto County, said she is withdrawing her fourth-grade daughter from public school and will teach her at home. She said her daughter has cried from frustration over Common Core math.

"At night she would pray, 'God, make me smarter,'" Correro said Monday.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus

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