By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, made it clear Monday he supports an across-the-board pay raise for Mississippi’s approximately 30,000 teachers during the just-started 2014 legislative session.
Gunn last month became the first major state Republican leader to endorse a pay raise in 2014. At the time, he said he was open to the idea of tying the raise to performance, as Gov. Phil Bryant has said he favors for future hikes.
But on Monday at the Mississippi State Stennis Institute of Government/Capitol press corps luncheon, Gunn said he favors performance-based pay for future raises, but that in 2014 the increase should be across-the-board.
“I am a firm believer the overwhelming majority of the teachers in the state are good,” the first-term speaker said. “I don’t want to pay bad teachers, but I don’t know who they are. Tell me who they are and we won’t pay them.”
Gunn said he believes a system that is being developed will be ready in two to three years to fairly evaluate teachers for pay raises, but in the meantime teachers who have not had a raise in seven years need one. He said Mississippi is falling farther behind neighboring states in teacher pay, making it difficult to attract quality instructors.
“We need to get the base pay up,” and then teacher salaries can be tied to performance levels, he said.
But Gunn reiterated, as he did in December, that it would be difficult to know how much of a raise the state can afford until March when the revenue picture is clearer.
Mississippi teachers earn the second lowest salary nationally – an average of just under $42,000 per year according to a 2013 study by the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s compared with $56,383 nationally and $48,563 in Mississippi’s neighboring states of Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents Campaign, a public education advocacy group, attended the luncheon and said she supports a teacher pay raise. But she said focus must not be lost on providing full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is the formula used to provide state funding to local school districts to pay basic operational costs. The formula is $1.2 billion short of full funding since fiscal year 2008.
Because of the shortfall, Loome said local school districts have had to reduce the number of teachers, increase class size and trim student services.
“Teacher pay is what MAEP is for the most part,” she said.
Gunn also said he would not be opposed to a raise for state employees. But the key, he said, is whether revenue collections continue to exceed projections.
Average public school teacher salaries in 2013:
• Mississippi – $41,994
• Neighboring states – $48,563
• Nation – $56,383
Source: National Center for Education Statistics