Mississippi House ups ante on teacher pay; final sum unclear

JACKSON, Miss. — The dam finally broke Monday on Mississippi lawmakers’ desires to boost teacher pay by more than the pair of $500 raises over the next two years that leaders had originally proposed.

A total of 20 Republicans broke ranks on a key House vote that kept alive a proposal to quadruple that original proposal, giving teachers a pair of $2,000 raises over the next two years.

The move also would quadruple the cost of the plan, boosting it from $51 million over two years to $206 million, according to estimates by legislative staff.

Rep. Steve Holland, a Plantersville independent, offered the amendment to Senate Bill 2770 , in what was the full House’s first vote on teacher pay during the 2019 legislative session. Holland recounted attending a grandchild’s program Friday at a Tupelo elementary school, only to be beset by teachers afterward.

“Are you kidding me, $500 a year? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” is what Holland said teachers told him.

Eleven Republicans voted against tabling Holland’s amendment, while one voted present and another eight didn’t vote. Holland’s amendment survived 55-50. Once the bill’s passage was a foregone conclusion, representatives voted 111-2 in favor.

The move comes days after a revenue report showed Mississippi on track to end the current budget year on June 30 with a surplus of more than $193 million.

Holland argued the House should stake out a strong bargaining position with senators seeking a bigger raise.

“You can’t negotiate from nothing. Negotiate from something with the Senate,” Holland said. “Then provide the means to do it. Because we can do it if we want to.”

House Republican leaders acknowledged an increase from the $1,000 proposal is likely, but argued lawmakers must fund other priorities, beginning with a $67 million increase demanded by the Public Employees Retirement System. That would cover shortfalls in the state pension plan for employees of state agencies, public schools, community colleges, public universities and other government bodies.

House leaders have also been firmly in favor of pay increases for at least state employees. House Appropriation Committee Chairman John Read, a Gautier Republican, told The Associated Press on Monday that House leaders are considering $12 million to $15 million to increase pay for any state employees who haven’t had raises in the past two years. He also said the state is considering money for public university and community college employees who haven’t had raises recently. Some higher education institutions have provided at least modest raises in recent years.

“We’ve got to balance the budget,” Bennett said. “We’ve got a lot of areas to look at. We’ve got employee pay raises to consider.”

Holland said he had intended to boost long-frozen salaries of assistant teachers by $4,000 as well, but his amendment appeared to omit that language. Instead, the bill would boost their pay from $12,500 to $13,500 over the two-year period. The Mississippi Department of Education says there are 31,000 teachers and 3,500 assistants statewide. An additional number of certified counselors and librarians also would be covered.

The National Education Association, a teachers union, said Mississippi had the lowest average teachers’ salary among the states at $42,925 in 2016-2017. The Mississippi Department of Education says average salary was a little higher, almost $45,000, in 2017-2018.

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