Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford

The Mississippi State Senate passed a bill that would bump up the salaries of public school teachers, but some say it’s just not enough.

Senate Bill 2770 passed out of the Senate Wednesday. The bill will increase teacher pay across the board by $1,000 over two years. If the bill is eventually signed into law, educators would receive an additional $500 in the first year and $500 in the next year, costing the state $50 million annually when the raise is fully phased-in.

Right now a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $34,390, although school districts can and often do supplement salaries with their own monies. In the 2017-18 school year, the average salary for a public school teacher was $44,926, according to the state superintendent’s annual report.

Teachers in Mississippi are paid according to a salary schedule based on years of experience and education. The minimum salary for assistant teachers is $12,500, and they too would see a $1,000 raise under the Senate bill.

The question of how to disburse those dollars was a point of contention. Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, presented the bill and argued giving the raise in one paycheck would be a “logistical nightmare,” but an amendment passed that would pay the raise in a lump sum to teachers in December.

“I think that if we were able to give this amount at one time to our teachers they would get more benefit out of it than if we just give them an incremental small amount each time,” said Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch.

Some Democrats questioned the reasoning for the raise.

“What do I say to my constituents — that this educational pay raise bill is a joke?,” Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, asked. “That $500 a year is less than $50 a month and you all are just doing this in an election year. You all are not serious about increasing pay raises for teachers. If so, you would do a whole lot better.”

Tollison replied the Legislature already gave a $2,500 raise to teachers in 2014. Teachers with National Board Certification can also earn an additional $6,000 a year for that certification. Additionally, Mississippi has a school recognition program that rewards teachers in districts that score an A or B on the state’s grading scale or improve a letter grade, something Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson tried to abolish in an amendment.

Blount proposed scrapping the program altogether and using the funds appropriated to it — $25 million a year — to double the amount of the teacher pay raise to $2,000 total. The amendment failed because Tollison and other senators argued there was not enough money to sustain that raise annually.

In a statement to Mississippi Today, the Mississippi Association of Educators said the bill was “an embarrassment.”

“It’s insulting. Our teachers deserve a pay raise that is reflective of their value to this state, and instead legislators have handed them yet another symbolic gesture,” the statement said.

“Beyond its disrespect, this bill’s passage shows that legislators are not taking seriously the dire situation facing Mississippi education and Mississippi educators,” the statement continued. “We have teachers with two and three jobs, cobbling paychecks together to make ends meet.”

The association said they hope the House will amend the Senate bill. The House has its counterpart waiting to be taken up. HB 1349 must pass by Thursday, or it will die on the calendar due to a legislative deadline.

The Senate bill now heads to the House for consideration.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.