By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday countered the House-passed $4,250 teacher pay raise spread out over four years by proposing a $1,500 pay raise starting July 1, followed by another $1,000 raise the following year.
Reeves’ plan , which will be considered today in the Senate Education Committee, also would eliminate the benchmarks veteran teachers are required to meet to get the raise in the House plan.
It also includes in the third year one-time per-student stipends to schools that improve their state ranking or maintain an A or B grade that could be divided among teachers at those schools.
In the plan, starting teachers would get a larger pay hike, raising their average starting salary from $30,900 to $33,390 on July 1 and to $34,390 the following July. In Tupelo, for example, where the local supplement means teachers earn more than the state average, a starting teacher would make more than $37,800 per year under the plan Reeves unveiled Monday.
The goal, Reeves said, “is to encourage and to incentivize more kids in the university system, the best and brightest if you will, to go into the teaching profession.”
New teachers in Mississippi would earn more than those in Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia under the plan.
Reeves, flanked by Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, at a news conference outside his Capitol office Monday afternoon, said providing teachers a meaningful pay raise without forcing them “to jump through hoops” would be the priority of the Senate this session at the expense of other state agency needs.
Reeves’ plan, which will be considered today in the Senate Education Committee, will not have the House-passed benchmarks teachers must meet to receive their raise.
Reeves praised the House for tackling the issue of pay for Mississippi teachers lagging the region and nation, and while describing the benchmarks as “well intentioned,” he said he didn’t see “the relevance of a teacher becoming a member of the Rotary Club to improved student outcomes.”
One of the benchmarks the teacher could meet to qualify for the pay raise in the House plan is to join a civil club with an education component. House leaders said they put in the benchmarks – a total of 23, of which teachers would have to meet three – as a method to ensure teaches are trying to improve and to appease Gov. Phil Bryant and Reeves. Both have said they support performance-based raises for teachers,
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said Monday he was open to an across-the-board raise with no performance measures from the beginning.
In the Reeves plan, teachers would be eligible for an additional pay raise in the third year if their schools achieved certain performance levels. A school that moved from a B ranking to an A, for example, would get $100 per student.
In a conference call with the Daily Journal editorial board after his news conference, Reeves used the example of Lawndale Elementary School in Tupelo, which has 370 students and would have gotten $37,000 for moving from B to A this year. That money could be distributed as a one-time payment to all teachers, or a decision-making body at the school could decide to reward a teacher whose students had shown big improvement a larger share.
Reaction came quickly to Reeves’ plan.
Gunn said, “I am excited the Senate has embraced our idea for a pay raise…The details are something that must be worked out.”
In a statement, Bryant said, “I have said from the beginning that a true merit pay system and an across-the-board raise for beginning base salary are not mutually exclusive. I look forward to seeing the results of the House and Senate proposals’ movement through the legislative process.”
Under the House bill, 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 the revenue grew by more than 3 percent. The total package would cost $188 million, assuming all teaches met the benchmarks and the raise was not postponed because of slow revenue growth. The Senate plan does not stipulate any revenue growth requirements.
“Our state loses too many good teachers to other states, and this plan can slow that migration,” Tollison said. “College graduates need to know they can make a good salary doing what they love in their home state.”
Reeves said he hopes the first year of his plan ($64 million) can be funded with growth in state revenue, but if not, he did not rule out using other sources of funds, such as state reserves.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said, Senate Democrats consider the plan unveiled by Reeves as “a positive development.”
He said, “This plan moves closer to our position. We need to study the detail of the plan to make certain our local districts will receive enough funds to pay for the raises, and to understand the details of the pay raise itself…We look forwarding to continuing our conversations with the lieutenant governor.”
Bryan said Senate Democrats maintain that there are funds to provide $5,000 raises for teachers and state employees and to fully fund the existing Adequate Education formula that provides state funds to local school districts over a three-year period.
“We are excited about what is developing in Jackson right now,” said Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden. “It’s my hope that the House and Senate will work together by writing legislation that reflects the best ideas from both chambers. This indeed is a meaningful step in the right direction to attract and retain the best teachers possible to serve our students.”
Said Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks: “While I am grateful for the efforts of the Legislature to improve the beginning teacher salary in this state, I do encourage them to continue working together, combining the best ideas for a teacher pay-raise and more funding to MAEP for the greatest benefit to teachers and students in our state.”