OUR OPINION: Two teacher bills move to the legislative stage

Mississippi’s legislative stage was set Wednesday for members of both chambers to make reasoned choices between two workable teacher pay raise plans or to blend the plans in an effort to make pay, especially for young and starting teachers, competitive with other Southern states.

The House passed its version of teacher pay in early February.

The Senate, without dissent, on Wednesday passed a plan detailed Monday by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford.

The Republican-led House package would increase teacher pay by $4,250 over four years, with part of the raise requiring a trigger of at least 3 percent revenue growth, which is forecast in each of the raise years.

House legislation also would require teachers with five years or more experience to achieve three of 22 named benchmarks to qualify for part of the raise, provisions that have caused kickback from some quarters, including Reeves, whose plan does not include benchmarks but includes a merit pay plan based on individual school performance.

The Senate bill passed Wednesday afternoon would give teachers a $1,500 pay raise on July 1, followed by another $1,000 increase the following July. Subsequent raises would depend on school performance – maintaining a B or an A ranking, or increasing any rank by at least a letter grade. A stipend would be paid the schools qualifying for the high achievement payment, with a local school-based committee deciding how it would be spent, whether on equal shares for all staff or special needs agreed on by the faculty and staff.

The Tollison-Reeves plan proposes a merit-pay that is school-focused rather than individual teacher-focused. It would be decided by a committee in every qualifying school within the guidelines of the bill.

The Senate plan appears to minimize the probability of undue influence from a single teacher or administrator, but questions moving forward could fully clarify that issue.

The Tollison-Reeves proposal would raise the starting salary for Mississippi to $34,390, slightly above today’s Southeastern average. Local supplements paid by individual school districts vary, but a starting teacher in Tupelo would make more than $37,000 with supplement, and in Oxford a starting salary would be above $38,000.

Constituents have time to let their voices be heard across the region and statewide. Strong opportunity presents itself, and the final choices will affect our state for a long time.