Senate panel advances plan for Mississippi teacher pay raise

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi senators took steps Tuesday to keep a proposed teacher pay raise alive.

The House and Senate passed separate pay raise plans several weeks ago, then they exchanged bills for more work.

The House killed Senate Bill 2001 by not bringing it up for a vote before a Tuesday deadline.

The Senate Education Committee kept the pay raise issue alive by amending House Bill 852. Senators removed all of the original House language and replaced it with the Senate plan, which would give most teachers and teachers’ assistants a $1,000 pay raise during the year that begins July 1. Newer teachers would receive $1,100 in an effort to make the jobs more attractive.

The surviving bill goes to the full Senate for more work.

“I think everybody in this building supports a teacher pay raise, and for whatever reason, it did not survive in the House,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar of Leakesville said Tuesday at the Capitol.

“We’re going to ensure we put teachers over politics,” DeBar said. “We’re going to make sure that the livelihood of our educators is not toyed with and that we, as the Senate, ensure our educators are compensated well for the work that they do, especially during the trying times that we are in.”

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann released the following statement:

Many of our conversations this week in the Legislature have centered on making Mississippi more competitive and prosperous.  Supporting our teachers, who help create the next generation of Mississippi leaders, is integral to this effort. 

Tonight, Senate committees adopted a House pay raise bill to keep a stand-alone bill for teachers alive.  We have been informed the prior Senate bill delivered to the House will die.

We want our teachers to know how important they are to our collective success, and particularly do not want their efforts during the pandemic to go unnoticed.  When the second teacher pay raise bill is returned to the House, we hope they will quickly approve it.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, R-Miss.

Mississippi has long had some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation. According to the Southern Regional Education Board, the average teacher salary in the U.S. for 2018-19 was $62,304. For Mississippi, the average was $45,105.

The current pay raise proposal is similar to one that stalled last year after the coronavirus pandemic created uncertainty about state spending.

The House passed a bill last week that would make several big changes to the state tax structure, and a proposal for a teacher pay raise was included in that bill. However, senators have expressed deep skepticism about House Bill 1439 because House leaders did not provide a thorough analysis of the long-range effect the tax changes would have on state revenue. The bill would phase out the income tax and cut the 7% grocery tax in half, but it would also increase several other taxes. The sales tax on most items would increase from 7% to 9.5%.

Republican Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula said Tuesday that the House “highjacked” one version of a teacher pay raise plan by putting it into the tax bill. Wiggins was among the Senate Education Committee members voting to keep a standalone pay raise bill alive.

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