Senate approves $1,500 pay raise for Mississippi teachers

Published 10:36 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mississippi lawmakers are moving toward a $1,500 pay raise for teachers beginning July 1.

The state Senate on Thursday voted 46-2 to approve the changes to the pay schedule for teachers starting July 1. Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison says the increase is expected to cost about $58 million.

House and Senate negotiators reached the deal on Senate Bill 2770 late Wednesday after days of negotiations. The House must also approve the agreement.

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The raise is higher than the pair of $500 increases over two years that Republican leaders initially proposed.

On a 28-19 vote, the Senate rejected an attempt by Senate Democratic Minority Leader Derrick Simmons of Greenville to seek a higher pay raise. Simmons wanted to restart negotiations for a pair of $2,000 increases over two years.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, a Republican from Hollandale, told senators that giving a larger raise to teachers would mean reducing spending for other state services.

“What would you be willing to cut? There is nothing left out on the table,” Clarke said. “Everything has been spent, I assure you.”

After Simmons’ attempt to push for a larger raise was rejected, he voted against the $1,500 raise.

“I support a teacher pay raise,” Simmons said. “I just don’t think it’s sufficient.”

The bill would also boost the long-frozen minimum salaries for assistant teachers from $12,500 to $14,000. The Mississippi Department of Education says there are 31,000 classroom teachers and 3,500 assistants statewide. An additional number of other school personnel with educator licenses would also be covered.

House members had been fighting with the Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for days over his desire to increase funding for a program that pays for special education students to attend private schools.

House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, a Long Beach Republican, flatly refused to increase money that had been sought to clear a waiting list, saying the program is set to expire next year and that a legislative review raised questions about its effectiveness. In a statement on the raise Wednesday night, Reeves said “our student achievement is improving because of the hard work of our teachers and I’m thankful for their efforts.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Read, a Gautier Republican, said Wednesday that he considered the new spending plan a “good budget,” in part because it gives raises and increases some services.

Republican leaders in the House said state agency employees who have gotten no pay raises in the last three years will get a 3 percent raise, although Democrats warned that many employees who are still poorly paid may see nothing. Clarke said pay increases would also be provided to some university and community college employees.

The overall budget will include more than $6 billion in state revenue and more than $20 billion overall including federal money. Clarke said legislators are likely to increase spending of state revenue by $175 million to $200 million over what was in this year’s budget