Mississippi teacher pay raise bill heading to negotiations

Published 4:30 pm Friday, March 4, 2022

Mississippi lawmakers will negotiate a final version of a bill to increase some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation.

The House and Senate passed separate plans several weeks ago provide raises of at least $4,000 a year.

On Wednesday, 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.

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An earlier version of the House bill would have increased teachers’ salaries by $4,000 to $6,000. The raises for teachers and their assistants would have been given in a single year rather being spread out.

After the Senate passed the updated bill this week, the House had two choices. It could accept that version or request a final round of talks. The House chose the second option Thursday, and negotiators have until the end of the month to come up with a plan.

Nancy Loome is executive director of the Parents’ Campaign, a group that lobbies for support of public schools. She sent an email Friday urging people to contact lawmakers about reaching a quick agreement.

“We are counting on the House and the Senate to craft final legislation that takes the best elements from both chambers’ plans, and we hope to see a STRONG final product in a matter of days, not weeks,” Loome wrote. “Teachers deserve the very best we can give them.”

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he supports increasing teachers’ pay.

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 state Department of Education. Teachers with advanced degrees and more experience are paid more.

Teachers’ assistants are now paid $15,000 a year.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, a Republican from Leakesville, 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.

The Senate plan also would provide larger increases when teachers reach five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years. Those increases would be $1,325 to $1,625, depending on the degrees a teacher has earned.

House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, a Republican from Long Beach, said the House plan emphasizes increasing teachers’ starting pay to retain young educators who might otherwise move to surrounding states to earn more money.