By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The teacher pay raise proposal unveiled Monday by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, passed the Senate on Wednesday afternoon without a dissenting vote.
Under the proposal teachers would get a $1,500 pay raise on July 1, followed by another $1,000 increase the following July. The plan also includes annual bonuses for schools that are high-performing or show improvement.
The proposal now goes back to the House, which can accept the Senate changes to the pay raise bill it passed earlier this session and send it to the governor or invite negotiations with the Senate.
Tollison answered questions from fellow senators about the proposal for about 30 minutes before it was passed. No member voted against it or tried to amend it, though Democratic senators have said earlier they would have preferred a $5,000 teacher pay raise phased in over three years.
The proposal provides an even larger raise for first-year teachers in an effort to lure “the best and the brightest” to the profession. Average pay for starting teachers would increase from $30,900 to $33,390 on July 1 and to $34,390 the following July.
“We feel like this is a solid proposal that falls within our budget..,” Tollison told Senate members. “It raises starting salaries to a competitive level across the Southeast, actually across the nation.”
Most of the questions in the Senate on Wednesday centered around provisions that would begin in the third year of the proposal that would give teachers a potential bonus based on overall school performance. Some members feared the bulk of those funds would go to more affluent school districts.
In the third year, the School Recognition Program would kick in where A-rated schools would get an additional $100 for each student, B schools would receive an additional $75 per student and other schools would receive an extra $100 per student by improving its grade rate – such as a F to a D or D to C.
Each school would select a committee to determine how to spend those funds. It can, for instance, be divided equally among the school staff or spent on new classroom instruction equipment.
Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-McComb, said, “My concern is the district doing well will be getting all the money” and that poorer districts that are struggling will not get the performance bonus.
The Senate plan removes the benchmarks that the House plan requires veteran teachers to achieve to qualify for the raise. House leaders said they put in the benchmarks as a method to ensure teaches are trying to improve and to appease Gov. Phil Bryant and Reeves, who have said they support performance-based raises for teachers.
Reeves has said he does not believe the benchmarks serve any purpose other than requiring teachers “to jump through hoops.”
In a statement soon after the proposal passed the Senate, the lieutenant governor said, “The overwhelming support for this plan shows it addresses the concerns many educators had about pay discussions at the Capitol. I hope it can become law quickly, so teachers can see results by the start of the budget year in July.”
Under the House bill, the raise would begin in January with a $500 bump. In July 2015, 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.
Pay for Mississippi teachers has consistently been close to the lowest in the nation.