Mississippi Senators, having already left for the weekend, were absent during the time Mississippi House leaders signed off on a plan to increase some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation by an average of $4,850. Since the Senate was not involved in these discussions, House members will have to wait for a response or a rebuttal before the plan can move forward. Representative De’Keither Stamps says they’re not quite there, but they’re close to a deal.
“We’re trying to work the final details out now. It’s long overdue for everyone. These people handle our children,” he said. “If they can leave and make more money at McDonald’s, then we definitely need to do better by them.”
The latest House proposal includes a structure that Senate leaders have wanted, including increases of $400 most years and increases of at least $1,000 every fifth year. The increase at the 25th year would be $2,500.
The Senate had been pushing for increases of $500 most years with increases of $1,325 to $1,625 every five years, depending on the education level of each teacher. The bump at 25 years would be $2,500. Earlier this month, the Senate passed an updated bill that would give teachers an average $4,700 raise over two years. Teachers’ assistants would receive a $2,000 increase over two years. Teachers’ assistants are now paid $15,000 a year. Stamps said it was imperative that teachers’ assistants were included.
“The teachers’ assistants, in particular, definitely need a raise as well,” he said. “We didn’t want to create any animosity in the classroom pitting folks against each other. So both groups need a raise.”
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said last week that he looks forward to meeting with the House and finalizing a pay raise.
“The future of Mississippi is in our children and those who educate them,” he said. “Giving teachers a raise continues to be a priority.”
The two chambers each appointed three members to a conference committee to work on a final version of the bill. Under legislative rules, conference committee negotiations are supposed to take place during open meetings.
Responding to questions, Speaker Philip Gunn said the new House proposal is not a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
“If they’ve got ways they think they can improve it, they can let us know. But we don’t see how there can be improvement,” he said. “There’s no reason the Senate shouldn’t just pass the House offering and send it on to the governor.”
The average teacher salary in Mississippi during the 2019-20 academic year was $46,843, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. That lagged behind the average of $55,205 for teachers in the 16 states of the regional organization. The national average was $64,133.
The starting salary for a Mississippi teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $37,000 for the current school year, according to the MS State Department of Education. Teachers with advanced degrees and more experience are paid more.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar has said one problem with the current Mississippi teacher pay schedule is that it does not include annual increases for the first three years. He said the Senate proposal “corrects or frontloads” the salary schedule by providing $500 annual increases for newer teachers.
House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett says the House plan emphasizes increasing teachers’ starting pay to retain young educators who might otherwise move away to earn more money. He said that the latest House proposal would set Mississippi’s starting teacher pay above Louisiana and Alabama.
Stamps says that current infighting and debate on the state income tax will leave final numbers for revenue in flux. That will ultimately decide what the raises will be.
“You have models of what the revenue will look like but you don’t know exactly what the revenue will look like until it’s in place,” he said. “I wish we could have even more of the folks that are in the schools getting raises. But we’re in a good spot.”