The state Senate on Friday with no debate unanimously passed a $210-million teacher pay raise, but the entire Black Caucus did not vote because its members walked out in protest of a critical race theory bill passed earlier.

Senate Bill 2444 would provide an average teacher salary increase of $4,700 over two years and restructure the way teachers are paid to provide higher salaries in the long term.

With the state budget flush largely from federal government pandemic spending, the state Senate and House now have competing teacher pay raise bills. Either would be one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history, with the House proposal at $219 million, providing raises of $4,000 to $6,000 a year.

“This will hopefully incentivize people to go into the teaching field and incentivize those already teaching to stay and to stay in Mississippi,” said Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville. He said teachers and experts have called for lawmakers to “remove some of the stagnation” in teacher salaries. The House plan would provide sizeable pay increases for teachers at five-year intervals.

After DeBar introduced the bill on Friday, Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, successfully offered a motion to prohibit debate and vote immediately. Senate Bill 2444 then passed unanimously, 35-0, but with 14 members of the Senate’s Black Caucus having left before the bill was taken up.

Mississippi’s teacher pay by several metrics is the lowest in the nation and the state has been grappling with a teacher shortage. Nationally, nearly 50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Both legislative proposals aim to increase starting teachers’ salaries, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves have all promised “significant” teacher raises. Reeves proposed a smaller, $3,300 increase over two years.

On Friday, Hosemann in a statement said: “Teachers open the gates of the minds of our future. I am thankful for the work of Chairman DeBar in listening to teachers to devise a pay system that begins the long necessary journey to monetarily rewarding their efforts.”

The Senate plan would bring the starting salary for teachers up to $40,000 and includes raises of $1,325 to $1,624 at five-year intervals as teachers gain more experience. The House plan includes a starting salary of $43,000 and a $2,000 raise for teacher assistants. The House plan would boost starting teacher pay above the Southeastern and national averages.

Each chamber has passed its own measure, sending it to the other. Most likely, a combination of the two will ultimately pass in the 2022 legislative session.

After the vote on Friday, House Minority Leader Derrick Simmons issued a statement about the Black Caucus walkout and the subsequent vote on teacher pay.

“Senate Democrats have always led the charge on teacher pay raises and have championed establishment of fair career plans that show our appreciation for the job our teachers do,” Simmons said. “However, the roll call vote today to pass Senate Bill 2444 – our teacher pay plan – was quickly called up and passed without discussion immediately after members of our caucus walked out in protest of a vague bill that would ban ‘critical race theory’ in Mississippi’s public schools and universities without creating boundaries. We felt it was unfair to have such a bill introduced or passed as it really demeans a large segment of our population. Though our votes were not counted because of the chain of events, Senate Democrats stand in support of raises for our educators.”

Use the calculator below to determine your pay raise under this new legislation:

READ MORE: ‘I was not expecting anything close to this:’ Teachers react to pay raise proposals

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.