Reeves talks teacher pay in new education plan unveiled on the Gulf Coast

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

GOP gubernatorial candidate Tate Reeves speaks to media after voting at Liberty Baptist Church during the GOP runoff elections.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves unveiled his plans for K-12 education should he become the next governor of Mississippi.

His opponent in the Nov. 5 election, Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood, announced his education plan at an elementary school in Greenville in September. Unlike Hood, Reeves did not make any commitments to fully fund education, but both candidates had multiple proposals in common, including:

  • Raising teacher pay
  • Addressing the teacher shortage
  • Creating education committees or task forces
  • Investing in early education

Reeves announced his plan flanked by teachers in Gulfport, where he boasted of fiscal responsibility he said put Mississippi’s “financial house in order.” Increased revenue collections will allow him to raise teacher pay and invest in other programs without raising taxes, he said.

Teacher pay has been a contentious subject this year, with just about every gubernatorial candidate pledging they want to raise Mississippi teachers’ salaries to the Southeastern average, which was around $51,000 during the 2015-16 school year according to the Southern Regional Education Board. During the 2017-18 school year, the most recent data available from the Mississippi Department of Education, the average salary for a public school teacher in Mississippi was $44,926.

In April, Reeves and the state Legislature passed a $1,500 pay raise for teachers and assistant teachers, which some declared was a “slap in the face.” Moving forward, Reeves’ plan for teacher pay would raise salaries to the Southeastern average in four years.

Today first year Mississippi teachers earn $35,890 without any district supplements. Reeves proposed a $1,500 raise in the first year, a $1,000 raise in the second and third years, and an $800 raise in the fourth year. He estimated this would cost the state about $224 million in total to award the extra $4,300 to teachers.

“We do know that there’s not a teacher in the state that makes what they are worth,” Reeves said. “As governor, I want you to know that I’ll support our teachers.”

Hood challenged that assertion at a separate news conference on Wednesday, telling reporters “I am sure you are going to hear an election year plan, but he had eight years to do it and he has not done it.”

Reeves did not mention any commitments to school choice measures like education scholarship accounts, although it’s an issue he’s championed during his tenure as lieutenant governor.

To address Mississippi’s critical teacher shortage, Reeves said he supports implementing a $10,000 bonus for new teachers who opt to teach in areas with high shortages in subjects like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and geographical areas like the Mississippi Delta.

He also proposed increasing the bonus teachers receive when they become National Board Certified from $6,000 to $10,000, and creating a teacher advisory council to advise the governor on their needs, he said.

His early education plans are to provide additional funding for Mississippi’s early learning collaboratives, which this year serve about 3,200 children. Collaboratives were written into law during the 2013 legislative session to provide funding to communities to establish and support quality early childhood education and development services. Since their inception, the Legislature has appropriated $6.5 million to the program, although Reeves did not provide a dollar amount in his plan. There are currently 18 collaboratives in Mississippi.

Reeves’ plan can be viewed in full here.

Bobby Harrison contributed to this report.