Magee Elementary School students learn phonics and phonemic awareness Friday, December 6, 2019.

On the day that the Senate recently passed a $76.9 million proposal to give teachers an annual $1,000 pay raise, members rose to ask to be added as co-authors – not an uncommon practice on popular bills.

As new Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann tried to list all the requests for co-authors so the Senate staff could have a record, he finally gave up and asked for a show of hands of anyone who did not want to be a co-author. No hands were raised.

Hosemann then praised the Senate for the passage of the bill – one of the few taken up this session.

At that point, senators  rose to give a round of applause – perhaps to Hosemann for leading on the issue or perhaps to themselves for the passage of the bipartisan bill that originally was authored by Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar Jr., R-Leakesville, and by Vice Chair David Blount, D-Jackson.

Bobby Harrison

Various teacher groups and education advocates touted the bill.

Not lost in the accolades was the fact that the 2019 session ended with many education groups upset with the $1,500 increase provided that session. Many argued it was not enough.

What gives? Many of the same people and groups who were upset with $1,500 last year are happy with $1,000 this year.

New Gov. Tate Reeves said recently that much of that criticism – much of which was directed at him in his role as lieutenant governor as he ran for governor – was politics as usual and was coming from a small group of outspoken members of teacher groups. Maybe, but the complaints among teachers seemed much more widespread.

Perhaps, it could be as simple as the fact that combining the $1,500 teachers received in 2019 with the $1,000 passed recently by the Senate and now pending in the House will get teachers closer to what they believe is adequate.

In addition, teachers now have the promise of more to come. Hosemann said he wants to continually provide increases until the point is reached where teachers do not have to quit for economic reasons. Plus, last year Reeves, facing a tough challenge from Attorney General Jim Hood in the governor’s race, promised a multi-year increase totaling $4,300.

Hosemann said it helped to meet with education groups early to make them part of the process.

“I think it was important to do that teacher pay raise first,” Hosemann said.

Not only was it one of the first bills taken up, but it also is being done in the first year of a four-year term. Often, it seems, legislators deem it important to do teacher pay raises in election years.

The last time a teacher pay raise was passed in the first year of a term was the historic $337 million bill approved in 2000. But importantly that pay raise – still the largest in state history – was so large that it was enacted over a six-year period, thus, encompassing another election year.

Do not forget it seemed at times during the past four-year term that education and legislative leaders were at war. It got off to a bad start with many education proponents upset with the very active and public effort of legislative leaders, namely Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, to defeat the proposed Initiative 42, which would have amended the Constitution to ensure more of a state commitment to public education. Then, seemingly to punish school superintendents who spoke out in support of Initiative 42, legislative leaders sneaked into a bill language essentially requiring school administrators to pay for their own continuing education.

Before the term was over Reeves and Gunn were proposing a new funding formula that would not provide as much money for public schools as the existing Mississippi Adequate Education Program and was sneaking into legislation increases in funding for a program to allow special needs children to use public funds to attend private schools.

But advocates believe that the 2019 elections ushered in more education supporters.

“I do think the new Legislature is more public education friendly,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents Campaign. “We are very pleased. So many of the new legislators campaigned on support for public schools.

“Mississippi voters sent a strong message that they will support candidates who support public schools and there seems to be a real optimism among legislators about the future of public education in Mississippi.”

And based on public comments, Hosemann seems less enamored with school choice than does Reeves, who actually may be more limited as governor in enacting school choice proposals than he was as lieutenant governor.

Thus, for the time being, there seems to be an era of good feelings as it relates to public education and the Legislature.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.