JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) –Teacher pay raise proposals gained momentum Wednesday at the Mississippi Capitol.
Senators unanimously passed a plan that would give teachers an additional $1,500 this July 1 and another $1,000 a year later. After that, teachers could become eligible for merit raises.
“We feel like this is a sound proposal that fits within our budget,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, told his colleagues.
Mississippi has long had some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation.
The House passed its own teacher pay raise plan in early February.
The two Republican-controlled chambers must agree on a single plan before anything can go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said he generally favors increasing teachers’ compensation.
The House could accept the Senate plan, or the two chambers could negotiate in the next few weeks.
The House plan would provide $4,250 over four years, but experienced teachers would have to meet certain requirements to collect the full amount. Teachers would receive $1,500 spread over the first two years. Then, if state revenue continues to grow at least 3 percent a year, they would get a projected raise of $2,750 over the third and fourth years of the plan.
Those in their first five years of teaching would receive the raises automatically. Teachers with more experience would have to meet three of 22 criteria, ranging from earning certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to joining a civic club.
The Senate plan removes the 22-point checklist.
Mississippi gives schools grades, like a report card. Under the Senate plan, teachers in schools that maintain an A or B from one year to the next would be eligible for merit pay, as would teachers in schools that move up a letter grade from year to year. Each school maintaining an A or moving up a letter grade would receive $100 per student, and each maintaining a B would receive $75 per student. Administrators would decide how to divide the money among teachers.
Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-McComb, expressed concerns that basing part of teachers’ pay on schools’ performance could hurt teachers who work in poor areas.
“In my opinion, we are just continuing giving the best schools the money and they are already doing well,” Butler said Wednesday.
Mississippi lawmakers last increased teachers’ base pay during the 2007 election-year session, although teachers since then have received built-in “step” increases based on their experience and academic degrees. Mississippi had the second-lowest average teacher pay in the nation in 2013 at $41,994, above only South Dakota, according to the National Education Association.
Mississippi Association of Educators director Frank Yates said Tuesday that to keep up with neighboring states, Mississippi needs to pass a 5.5 percent teacher pay raise each year for the next five years. The Senate plan would give beginning teachers a 5 percent increase the first year and 3 percent the second year.