Top Mis­sis­sippi of­fi­cials state their sup­port for a teacher pay raise

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BRACEY HAR­RIS

With state elec­tions loom­ing, Mis­sis­sippi’s top po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are avoid­ing con­tro­ver­sial ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy bat­tles and back­ing a more palat­able pro­posal — a teacher pay raise.

Republicans Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn have sig­naled their sup­port for in­creas­ing teacher pay.

Both have also held off on un­veil­ing specifics.

Still at play, Gunn cau­tioned, is how much rev­enue the state will col­lect be­fore bud­get work be­gins in March.

“Three years ago, the House led on a teacher pay raise. So, we clearly sup­port our teach­ers,” he said, speak­ing to a group of re­porters in De­cem­ber. “Any­thing we do in that arena is go­ing to be a func­tion of dol­lars and whether or not rev­enues ex­ist.”

Back in 2014, law­mak­ers pushed through a $2,500 pay raise for teach­ers that was phased in over two years. The av­er­age Mis­sis­sippi teacher now makes $44,659, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. Gov. Phil Bryant wants to see law­mak­ers ded­i­cate an ad­di­tional $50 mil­lion to salary

in­creases over the next two years.Cal­cu­la­tions by the As­so­ci­ated Press show that boost, if dis­trib­uted evenly, would come out to an es­ti­mated $1,579 or 3 per­cent raise be­fore taxes by 2020.

The lift would still leave Mis­sis­sippi at the low end of av­er­age teacher salaries com­piled by the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics.

Ac­count­ing for differences in cost of liv­ing across the coun­try, some vari­a­tion is to be ex­pected. Still, pay in Mis­sis­sippi trails other South­ern states where the spend­ing power is com­pa­ra­ble.And teacher groups are ques­tion­ing whether Bryant’s pro­posal is enough to keep Mis­sis­sippi com­pet­i­tive with neigh­bor­ing states.“We have a teacher drain that is acute,” Joyce Helmick, pres­i­dent of the Mis­sis­sippi As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors, said. “They’re spend­ing the money to go to our four-year schools, and then they’re pack­ing their bags and go­ing some­where else.”

She also ques­tioned the tim­ing of the pro­posal, not­ing that 2019 is an elec­tion year. It’s a sen­ti­ment that has been echoed in so­cial me­dia com­ments from teach­ers.

Reeves, the ex­pected Repub­li­can front-run­ner for gov­er­nor, first hinted at a teacher pay raise dur­ing the Neshoba County Fair this sum­mer, telling fair­go­ers: “Teach­ers have re­ceived $350 mil­lion more in the last four years. I look for­ward to get­ting teach­ers even more in the fu­ture.”

Mike Grif­fith with the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of the States says tak­ing ac­tion on man­dated teacher pay only in­ter­mit­tently can lead to prob­lems.

“You should re­visit salary min­i­mums an­nu­ally if you’re try­ing to cre­ate com­pet­i­tive salaries,” he ad­vises.

De­lays, Grif­fith said, can re­sult in a state’s teacher salary scale fall­ing be­hind in­fla­tion.

A salary re­set years down the road, he ex­plained, could then cause a shock to the sys­tem.

Dis­tricts, Grif­fith added, are also wary of re­ceiv­ing man­dates to pay teach­ers more with­out ad­e­quate state sup­port.

“Per pupil fund­ing and teacher pay go hand-in­hand,” Grif­fith said, point­ing out that fig­ures for both in Mis­sis­sippi rate as some of the low­est in the coun­try.

Nancy Loome, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for the Par­ents Cam­paign, a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cacy group, be­lieves im­ple­ment­ing a teacher pay hike with­out fully fund­ing the Mis­sis­sippi Ad­e­quate Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram could in­crease pres­sure on school dis­tricts lack­ing enough lo­cal sup­port to close the gap. MAEP, she pointed out, is de­ter­mined by a for­mula, in part, av­er­ag­ing the in­struc­tional costs of C-rated school sys­tems. As is the trend na­tion­ally, teacher salaries com­prise the bulk of those bud­gets.

“Salaries are in the MAEP,” Loome said. “It isn’t as if they can pro­vide just a lump sum of fund­ing in one year to cover a pay raise and then ig­nore it from there on out. The salaries are paid for ev­ery year through the MAEP. We ab­so­lutely sup­port a salary in­crease for teach­ers. We have a ter­ri­ble teacher short­age. Teach­ers need to be paid more and the Leg­is­la­ture needs to fund it.”

AMANDA MCCOY Sun Her­ald file photo

The av­er­age Mis­sis­sippi teacher now makes $44,659, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

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