Magee Elementary School teacher Deonne Wittman works with students in a whole group phonics exercise on Dec. 6, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

The state House on Tuesday passed the largest teacher pay raise in state history — one that kept growing as the House and Senate haggled — on to the governor.

“This has been like making sausage — it’s not pretty, but the end result is pretty good,” House Education Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, said before the House voted 118-4 to send a $246 million teacher raise to Gov. Tate Reeves, who indicated he would sign it into law.

The average annual teacher raise will be $5,140, and the raise will begin for the 2022-2023 school year. Starting teacher pay will increase from $37,123 to $41,638, putting Mississippi above the southeastern and national averages.

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

The raise grew from about $210 million early in this year’s legislative session to $246 million as the House and Senate haggled over details. The final bill includes annual step increases for teachers of at least $400 and larger pay bumps of $1,200 to $1,350 every five years — a component Senate leaders pushed for.

The raise will be implemented in a single year, as the House proposed, not over two years as in the original Senate plan. The bill also includes a $2,000 raise for teacher assistants.

Reeves, when campaigning for governor in 2019, promised to raise teacher’s pay. This year he had proposed a smaller raise of $3,300, spread out over three years.

In a statement Tuesday, Reeves said, “In 2019, I made a commitment to the teachers of our state that, as Governor, I would relentlessly push to ensure that they get the pay raise which they have earned and deserve. I intend to fulfill that promise and greatly look forward to seeing this legislation arrive at my desk.”

The House and Senate deal on the teacher raise bill marks a rare agreement on major issues this legislative session. House and Senate leaders have been in a standoff over tax cuts, which has threatened to derail other legislation as the 2022 session enters its final weeks. Education advocates had feared the teacher raise would get caught up in the tax fight.

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.

Antonio Castanon Luna, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Educators, on Tuesday praised lawmakers final passage of the raise, and said it’s a “double investment.”

“It’s an investment in the future of Mississippi, and an investment in our state right now,” Luna said. “We will be able to recruit teachers to our classrooms now and for years to come, which will help our students. And it will provide a more educated workforce, a better prepared workforce for the future of Mississippi.”

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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.