djr-2020-07-28-news-corinth-elementary-arp14

Corinth Elementary School third grade teacher Brooke Marlar helps student Navaeh Malone get started with her assignment. The Legislature on Thursday approved a pay raise for teachers.

JACKSON • Mississippi teachers will get at least a $1,000 raise next year after lawmakers gave salary legislation final approval Thursday.

The House voted 119-2 to approve the $51 million pay package, which now heads to Gov. Tate Reeves. He has pledged he will sign any teacher salary bill that reaches his desk. The legislation was a top priority of both legislative chambers as lawmakers seek to prevent teachers from leaving the state for higher pay elsewhere.

The bill raises salaries to $37,000 for teachers in their first three years – up $1,100. All other teachers will get a $1,000 raise. The minimum salary amount for teacher assistants will be set at $15,000, up $1,000.

Both the Senate and House had advanced their own teacher pay bills this session. The language that ultimately passed Thursday was the Senate’s version, though it was nearly identical to the House proposal. The only difference was that the Senate set base assistant teacher salaries $100 lower, according to House Education Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach.

“The teacher aides make nothing. We’ve got to get them up,” Bennett told the Daily Journal. “I’d like to come back next year and give them a pretty significant bump. And there’s not that many of them either. It’s only (kindergarten through third grade) where there’s teacher assistants.”

Bennett said the $100 difference wasn’t worth a fight with the Senate, and he did not want teachers to worry a raise wasn’t coming again this year if legislative wrangling continued. A similar teacher pay package was slated for passage last year until COVID-19-related budget woes led to its demise.

The Legislature might give teachers an additional monetary incentive this year, Bennett said, though he did not elaborate.

Another pay increase bill or other teacher incentive legislation this session would require lawmakers to suspend their rules, as most legislative deadlines have already passed. The session is scheduled to end April 4, though House Speaker Philip Gunn and others have hinted it could be extended.

“Hopefully we can come back with a little more (money), an incentive-type package” for teachers, Bennett said.

Gunn praised the House for passing the teacher pay package Thursday, and took a jab at the Senate for including less money for teacher assistants. He also noted a House proposal that rolled the teacher pay language into a bill to eliminate Mississippi’s income tax.

“(W)e are disappointed the Senate has declined to pass our income tax bill which would have put another $1,750 back into the typical teacher’s pocket,” Gunn wrote on Twitter. “Overall we are pleased that once again we produced a bill supporting our teachers this session.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann made teacher salaries among his top priorities for the session. When the legislation cleared the Senate earlier this month, Hosemann said lawmakers wanted “teachers to know how important they are to our collective success,” and “do not want their efforts during the pandemic to go unnoticed.” He did not immediately comment on the House’s final passage of the legislation Thursday.

A National Education Association report released last year found Mississippi teachers made on average the least in the nation at $45,105. Lawmakers have repeatedly noted the state’s budget constraints but emphasized they want to make teacher salaries more competitive with other southeastern states and ideally provide more raises in future years.

Education leaders from both chambers have mentioned the possibility of meeting this summer to strategize plans for increasing teacher pay to meet the southeastern average.

LUKE RAMSETH is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at lramseth@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.

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