Math teacher Krupa Kaneria talks with students on the first day of school at Cleveland Central Middle School on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

House and Senate negotiators tentatively agreed Wednesday — pending the numbers crunch out — on a massive Mississippi teacher pay raise, one that would provide an average raise of $5,100 in the coming school year.

The proposed raise has now grown from about $210 million early in this year’s legislative session to $246 million, with Senate negotiators adding about $20 million, mostly for larger five-year pay “bumps” for experienced teachers in their counter offer to the House Wednesday. Otherwise, the Senate leaders agreed to most of the proposal the House sent them late last week, including doing the raise in one year instead of stretching it out over two.

“Let’s get this (agreement) knocked out and maybe get this passed in the next day or two,” Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar told House colleagues at a conference meeting on House Bill 530.

Rep. Kent McCarty, part of the House delegation that met with Senate leaders Wednesday, said, “We want to see this pay raise done as quickly as possible … I certainly have no issues, as far as policy, this accomplishes our mission. We will just have to look at the plan with our budget people … We will act very quickly on this and respond promptly. Let’s get this done.”

Reps. Keven Felsher and Jansen Owen also expressed optimism that a final deal is nigh after meeting with senators.

The potential deal marks rare detente between the House and Senate near the end of a legislative session dominated by a standoff between the Republican leadership of the chambers over tax cuts. The House wants to eliminate the state personal income tax. The Senate is proposing tax cuts, but says the House plan is too risky during uncertain economic times. Speaker Philip Gunn has threatened to hold up other measures and spending over the income tax issue, including spending of billions in federal pandemic stimulus spending.

READ MORE: House offers ‘compromise’ teacher pay raise, but Senate says it wasn’t in on the compromising

Education advocates have feared the teacher pay raise would get caught up in the tax standoff. Earlier in the session, the House killed the Senate pay raise bill without a vote. The Senate reluctantly passed the House bill after making changes to keep the pay raise alive.

“We believe the Legislature is working together to deliver this,” said Antonio Castanon Luna, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Educators. “We are glad they are moving quickly.” Many teachers attended the conference meeting Wednesday, and Luna said more than 100 teachers were visiting the Capitol as part of a previously planned conference.

Mississippi’s teacher pay by several metrics is the lowest in the nation, and the state has struggled to recruit and retain teachers.

The latest proposal would raise starting teacher pay to an average of $41,638, higher than both the southeastern starting average of $39,754 and the national average of $41,163.

With the Senate’s proposed changes Wednesday, teachers would receive pay increases from $1,200 to $1,350 every five years of service, depending on education and training. Senate leaders said teachers at hearings over the summer said such incentives would help retain experienced teachers.

READ MORE: House vs. Senate: How do their teacher pay plans compare?

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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.