‘It’s a first step’: $1,000 teacher pay raise moves forward in Senate

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Delbert Hosemann during the opening day of the legislative session in the Mississippi House chambers at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, January, 2020.

Senate leaders committed to a $1,000 pay raise for teachers Thursday, telling reporters it’s just the first step in this new legislative term.

The Senate education committee passed a bill that would give an $1,110 raise to teachers in their first three years of teaching, and $1,000 for teachers across the board thereafter. The bill needs to pass out of the appropriations committee before it goes to the Senate floor for a full vote. For assistant teachers, their salaries would increase to $15,000.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, Education Committee chair Sen. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, and vice-chair Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, spoke to reporters after the Senate adjourned for the day. They were flanked by educators and the leaders of teacher advocacy groups, and said this $1,000 raise is just a start.

“It is a first step that we’re going to take in a hopefully very quick journey to getting our teachers to a compensation level in which they do not have to make an economic decision whether to be a teacher or not,” Hosemann said.

DeBar said he and Blount intend to meet with educators over the summer to talk and learn about what the Legislature can do to bring Mississippi teachers’ salaries up to a livable wage, and will continue to work on the issue during the four-year legislative term.

In the 2018-19 school year, the average teacher’s salary was $45,105, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. This year a brand new teacher with a bachelor’s degree who does not receive any district supplements earns $35,890. With the Senate bill, that figure would increase to $37,000.

Mississippi teachers received a $1,500 pay raise last year; many described the amount of the raise as a slap in the face. Pay raises became a central talking point of the 2019 state elections, but this year, education advocacy groups are acknowledging the Senate bill as a starting point.

Symbolically, I think this is a great day for the teachers of Mississippi,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of the Mississippi Professional Educators. “This amount will not get us to where we ultimately need to be, but it’s a critical first step.”

“I think that the timing of this is also very significant… It’s the first year of a four-year term and they are demonstrating their commitment to our public school teachers with Senate Bill 2001,” Riley said.

Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators said many teachers are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet, so this potential raise is at least a step forward in the right direction.

“Our educator’s voice during the last voting cycle…They really wanted a teacher pay raise,” said Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators. “Although it is just $1,000 this first year, the lieutenant governor has expressed the need for a multiyear pay plan. That is something that our educators will get behind.”

Hosemann said raises for other state workers are on the horizon as well.

“Our teachers are a start, but we have other state employees that are woefully inadequately compensated,” Hosemann said. “We are going to do pay raises for them from the bottom up.”