Senate balks at $4,000 teacher pay raise passed by House, cite ‘other competing needs’

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Laura King gives test instructions during class at West Bolivar High School Monday, October 29, 2018

The Mississippi House of Representatives has taken a bold stance on teacher pay raises, but the final amount of extra money teachers see on their paychecks will likely be worked out behind closed doors.

On Monday the House voted 111-2 to pass Senate Bill 2770, a teacher pay bill. The version that passed out of the Senate would have paid teachers an additional $500 a year over two years for a $1,000 total raise. The Senate version also included an amendment that would have disbursed the payments in one check in December.

The House changed all of that Monday by inserting their own language into the bill and increasing the amount of the raise with an amendment by Democrat Rep. Steve Holland, of Plantersville.

“In my humble opinion, there is no group of people in this state more important than the professional educators that teach our children and our grandchildren,” Holland said on the House floor. “So bah humbug on $500 dollars a year. Y’all ought to be ashamed if you vote for it.”

Holland’s amendment creates a $4,000 total raise for public school teachers, paid out with $2,000 a year over two years. The amendment did not include a raise for assistant teachers, who currently make $12,500 a year, but the bill does include the original amount proposed for this group, which is a $1,000 raise.

Currently, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $34,390 without any district supplements. 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.

“It’s clear that House members are listening to the voices of their constituents and understand that an investment in Mississippi educators is an investment in Mississippi’s future,” said Joyce Helmick, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators. “We hope their colleagues in the Senate follow suit and show that they, too, are eager to work toward paying our teachers a salary that is reflective of their value.”

If the Senate makes no changes to the bill and passes it, it can be signed by the governor immediately. However, it’s more likely the bill will go to conference, where senators and representatives meet behind closed doors to work out specifics later this month.

Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the Senate would consider the House proposal, but added there were other state needs.

“We have to look at other competing needs,” he said.

He said those needs include about $65 million to shore up the Public Employees Retirement System and a possible raise for other state employees. In addition, he said there are other agencies that need additional funding.

Tollison said the final decision on a pay raise size would be made in the last days of the session later this month when a budget agreement is hammered out between House and Senate leaders.

Tollison said the Holland proposal would cost $200 million fully enacted in two years.

If approved by the Senate, it would be the largest teacher pay raise enacted since the 2000 session when the Legislature approved a $338 million pay raise, although that was implemented over a five year period.

That pay raise was designed to move the salary of Mississippi teachers to the Southeastern average. While a sizable raise, other Southeastern states also were increasing teacher salaries during that time, resulting in the 2000 raise not being enough to move Mississippi teachers to that elusive average.