$18.5 million needed to cover nearly 10,000 educators left out of pay raise due to administrative error

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Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Biology teacher Jennifer Johnson teaches students about the heart using a deer heart as a real example.

Almost 10,000 educators were omitted from a teacher pay raise, the Mississippi Department of Education announced on Monday.

Nearly three months after the discovery that not enough money was set aside to ensure every public school teacher receives a pay raise, MDE stated in a news release that $18.5 million is necessary to cover the deficit for the 9,834 educators receiving the pay increase and benefits who were not included in the original estimate.

In total, 40,991 teachers will receive a $1,500 pay raise, which costs the state $76.9 million, according to MDE.

In the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers approved a $1,500 pay raise for public school teachers and assistant teachers and set aside $58 million in the state budget to cover that expense. In April, Mississippi Today first reported the Legislature did not appropriate enough funds because of an administrative error. Mississippi Department of Education officials blamed the error on an information system officials have warned lawmakers is old and unreliable.

During the session, the Legislature asked MDE for a count of teachers to be included in the raise and how much that would cost. Department officials used a code in the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) referencing state-funded teaching positions. Some teachers are paid with federal funds instead of state funds, and as a result some special education, career technical education, gifted classes and teacher assistants were omitted from the count. The error was discovered when local superintendents discovered there were not enough funds for them to give raises to all of their teachers.

In May, state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said no teacher would be omitted from receiving a raise and local districts would not have to come up with the funds on their own. Department officials have since pledged to revamp the MSIS system in the future.

“The expanded list of teaching positions eligible for the pay raise goes beyond classroom teachers, counselors, teacher assistants and librarians to include specialized positions such as dyslexia therapists, intervention specialists, audiologists and psychologists, among others,” the department said in the release.

Districts will receive enough money to pay teachers with the original appropriation to cover the monthly cost of the pay raise, the department said.

The deficit appropriation will be approved or denied by the Legislature when they reconvene for the 2020 legislative session, which begins in January. Legislators have indicated support for a deficit appropriation.

“The House leadership is supportive of funding this deficit and ensuring that the school districts will not be required to absorb any costs associated with the pay raise,” House education chair Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach said in a statement.

Contributing: Aallyah Wright and Kelsey Davis