By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The House Education Committee passed legislation Monday that could result in Mississippi’s public school teachers garnering a $4,250 raise over a four-year period.
The final two years of the pay package would be contingent on state revenue growth being more than 3 percent.
Plus, for teachers with more than five years of experience to receive the increase, they must meet three of 22 separate benchmarks, from having an advanced degree, to receiving a positive recommendation from the school principal, to having a good attendance record.
“It will be easy to meet the three benchmarks,” House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, said after a news conference at the state Capitol where Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and most of the House Republicans touted the proposal.
The raise will be automatic for teachers with less than five years of experience, but once they reach the sixth year, they must be able to hit three of the benchmarks or they will lose the raise.
The raise would begin in January with a $500 bump. In July, they would receive an additional $1,000.
Then the following two years they would receive increases of $1,350 and $1,400 if state revenue grows by more than 3 percent.
Gunn estimated the pay raise would cost the state $180 million over the four years. House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson R-Poplarville, whose committee will consider the proposal today, said the state had the funds to pay for the raise.
“If we are going to improve our educational system, we have to invest in good teachers,” Gunn said at the news conference. “Our plan does that…”
Gov. Phil Bryant, who earlier said all future teacher pay raises should be based on merit instead of across-the-board, praised the House Education Committee proposal.
“I believe that Mississippi’s high-performing teachers should be rewarded for their efforts, and I am encouraged that this measure includes a few measurable benchmarks,” the governor said.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the raise is not large enough and questioned why the Republican leadership of the House wanted veteran teachers “to jump through hoops” to get the raise. He said the money is available to provide teachers a larger increase in the early years.
“We just need to have a simple straightforward raise,” Bryan said.
The last raise teachers received was in 2007.
One of the intents of the proposal, Gunn said, is to move new teachers to near the Southeastern average in salary. The average starting salary for a Mississippi teacher is $30,900, compared to the Southeastern average of $32,500.
Mississippi teachers earn the second lowest salary nationally – an average of just under $42,000 per year according to a 2013 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. The national average is $56,383 and $48,563 in Mississippi’s neighboring states.
Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, who is the House minority leader, pointed out Democrats tried to pass a $5,000 across-the-board raise for teachers last year.
Speaking at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute/Capitol press corps luncheon Monday, Moak indicated that Democrats might offer their own proposal on the House floor.
Of the House proposal, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, “Committing to $180 million in additional annual expenditures may not be prudent given the current state of the economy.”
Reeves said he was glad the proposal contains benchmarks but said, “I would very much prefer merit benchmarks focused on student achievement than on easily achievable benchmarks for teachers for showing up to work, joining the Rotary Club and volunteering to sponsor an extracurricular activity.”