Historic teacher pay plan unveiled in senate proposal

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Senate leaders on Monday un­veiled a proposal to give Missis­sippi teachers an average raise of $4,700 over two years and re­structure the way teachers are paid to provide them higher salaries in the long-term.

The proposal — which, if passed, would represent the largest teacher pay increase since at least the early 2000s — was announced on Monday by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar of Leakesville.

The aim, Senate leaders said, is to structurally address Missis­sippi’s teacher salaries, which by several metrics are the lowest in the nation.

“This pay plan will make us more competitive with our neighbors,” DeBar said. “Hope­fully, this will entice or provide some incentive, some motivation for teachers to stay in the profes­sion as well as stay in Missis­sippi.”

The Senate’s proposed restruc­turing of annual changes to teacher pay is aimed at retaining mid- and early career teachers, who often leave the state or the teaching profession altogether because of low pay.

The Senate plan would cost $210 million per year starting the second year. That figure includes a $166 million cost in the first year to restructure step in­creases and provide a large raise for most teachers, and $44 mil­lion starting in the second year for a $1,000 across-the-board raise for all teachers.

The plan was unveiled Monday during a Capitol press corps luncheon meeting of the Missis­sippi State University Stennis In­stitute of Government where Hosemann, the presiding officer of the Senate, was scheduled to speak.

Unannounced, Hosemann asked DeBar, who was in the au­dience, to join him at the podium where they outlined the plan.

Teacher pay is expected to be one of the priority issues during the 2022 legislative session, which began last week. Hose­mann, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves have all voiced support for “significant” teacher salary increases this year.

Reeves has proposed a $3,300 increase over two years. The House has yet to announce its plan. DeBar said Monday if the House wanted a larger raise that would be OK with him.

Reeves’ office on Monday is­sued a brief written statement on the Senate plan: “We’re grateful for the Senate’s work on this, and optimistic at this further momentum for a meaningful teacher pay raise this year. Teachers deserve it.”

The significance of the Senate plan, Hosemann and DeBar said, is that it attempts to correct some of the structural deficien­cies in the so-called salary ladder.

The ladder, which is written in state law, determines the state compensation each year for teachers based on their years of experience and education level. Each year, with no action from the Legislature, teachers get a small increase as they garner an­other year of experience. Teach­ers also receive more pay based on their academic degrees.

Normally, that step increase is around $200-$250 annually. The Senate plan unveiled Monday would make the yearly increase uniform at $500.

The plan also would provide significantly larger raises for each five-year increment — $1,325 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree, $1,425 for a master’s, $1,525 for a specialist and $1,624 for a doctorate. The teachers would automatically get the larger step increase every five years and, importantly, those increases would become part of their regular pay.

In addition, the salary ladder would begin after year one for teachers. The current ladder starts after the third year of teaching. And the starting pay for teachers would increase from $37,000 annually to $40,000.

“I think it (Senate plan) will make a difference,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of the Mississippi Professional Educa­tors. “Is it all that we want it to be? No.

“It is significant. It is going in the right direction. It will make us more competitive. We are appre­ciative of (DeBar’s) commitment to this.”

Nancy Loome, director of The Parents’ Campaign, said: “I think it’s a very good effort, and it does a very good job of address­ing specific concerns teachers raised during listening sessions. They actually rewrote the entire salary schedule — includ­ing adding steps after years one and two, and it compounds, so that raises everybody. The bigger bumps at five year inter­vals. We are very pleased about that.

“As we heard from (Southern Regional Educa­tion Board), our teachers at the top end of the scale ac­tually compare pretty well to other states. They did not leave those teachers out of this plan – every­body gets something – but it’s those teachers in that mid-career range that will see some increases that will help, hopefully allow them to stop those second or third jobs unless they want to work them.”

Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said she at­tended several listening sessions the Senate lead­ers held and, “I believe they were listening to what teachers were saying.”

“I saw it did include the increases for teachers 0-3 years, and we heard that mentioned to them several times,” Jones said. “And we are really pleased to see the year five larger in­creases. I know this can change as it goes through the legislative process, but we are very pleased with this proposal … One con­cern I did have was that it didn’t include all school staff — custodians, cafete­ria workers and bus driv­ers.”

The proposal comes on the heels of s roughly $1,000 raise teachers re­ceived during the 2021 legislative session. For the past several legislative terms, lawmakers have opted to offer pay raises in small increments rather than addressing the pay scale itself, like in this new Senate plan.

DeBar said he had planned for a smaller pay raise proposal before hold­ing town hall-style meet­ings with teachers across the state the last few weeks of 2021.

“They were enthusias­tic,” DeBar joked.

He and Hosemann said the current unprecedented growth in state collections — 15.9% for last year — gave them the opportunity to propose a larger pay hike.

“If we did not go forward with a significant pay plan this year with the times we have, with the revenue we have… I don’t know if we could do it another year,” DeBar said. “This is the year to do it… It is impor­tant to do it now.”

Loome said: “It sounds like we are in a really good place… when the execu­tive and both branches of the Legislature say they are committed to a signifi­cant pay raise. I think they are realizing that our teachers are doing an amazing job, but they are being paid near poverty level and it’s not reason­able to expect professional people do to continue to do such a job for such low pay.”





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