OUR OPINION: Substantial teacher raise proposal moves in House

Two key Mississippi House committees have sent forward a surprisingly large ($4,250, four-year) proposed teacher pay raise, the first in seven years if it or some version were to win final passage and Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature.

Democrats grumbled it is too little and that the bill contains demeaning requirements on which receiving part of the raises depend, but meeting at least three of those 22 items should offer no impediment to the vast majority of teachers because much of the list involves items and activities in which teachers regularly engage.

It may be more notable politically that Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn’s fellow Republican, hesitated about the total cost, $180 million, for the program. Reeves said he has concerns because of the “current state of the economy,” which by official state projections is growing enough to fund all of the raise in the four-year package.

A raise is important because Mississippi is at the bottom in average teacher pay and starting salaries in the Southeast and compared to bordering states, which compete directly with Mississippi for experienced and qualified teachers.

One of the intents of the proposal, Gunn has 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 less than $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.

Teachers with fewer than five years of teaching experience would automatically get these increases as follows:

• $1,000 increase by Jan. 1, 2015

• $500 increase by July 1, 2015

• $1,350 increase by July 1, 2016, contingent upon 3 percent growth (economists project 4.4 percent growth)

• $1,400 increase by July 1, 2017, contingent upon 3 percent growth (economists project 4.1 percent growth)

The proposed four-year increase totals $4,250. Could it be larger? Perhaps.

For once, Mississippi’s economy looks promising enough to fund raises with confidence in their affordability – and necessity. Debate moving ahead needs to reflect those factors.