As a teacher pay raise moves forward in the House, leaders caution that a final amount has not been set.
The House Education Committee on Monday passed a Senate bill that would give the state’s teachers a $1,000 pay raise phased in over two years -- $500 a year. Assistant teachers would also see the salary increase if the legislation becomes law.
Lawmakers returned to Jackson in January with urging from Gov. Phil Bryant to pass an across the board teacher pay raise.
The average teacher salary in Mississippi is $44,926, according to the Mississippi Department of Education, but first year teachers with a bachelor’s degree can start out at less than $35,000.
So far, lawmakers have only moved to increase starting pay from $34,390 to $35,390.
Senate Bill 2770 is the only proposal to increase teacher salaries to have survived legislative deadlines to this point.
House Education Chairman Richard Bennett,R-Long Beach, has been hesitant to commit to a final figure ahead of the budget setting process, which is expected to pick up in mid-March.
“This is the only vehicle left for teacher salaries, so we’re going to move this forward and try to work with this process,” he said on Monday. “This doesn’t mean this is what the teachers are going to get or not get. As the numbers come in, we’ll know a little bit more of what we can do.”
The House Appropriations Committee passed the proposal Tuesday.
For the second year in a row, the House is also declining to take up legislation addressing the state’s school choice program which uses public money to finance the private school education of children with special needs.
A Senate bill referred to the House would have extended the program, which is set to sunset next July, until 2024.
Bennett pinned the shunning in part on a review by the state’s legislative watchdog that found a lack of accountability for the program. Since 2015, Mississippi has spent almost $5 million on the voucher-like initiative.
Although a survey from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review found a 91 percent parental satisfaction rate with the program, the report urged more oversight.
PEER found that one parent received an $11,000 reimbursement for “teaching.” Another spent $6,286 for tutoring services that appeared questionable.
Bennett said education bills concerning the program failed to address PEER’s findings and recommendations. He further questioned extending the program during an election year.
“The electorate out there is going to elect new people and I don’t think you cut them out of the process—so I think it’s bad policy,” Bennett said.
Bennett cited a lack of interest as a further explanation for the bill’s death. He told reporters only one representative approached him in favor of the bill.
The program remains a favorite of legislative leaders, however.
House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both attended a school choice rally in support of advocates and families who want to see the waitlist for the ESA program cleared.
Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant are backing that request.
Gunn also indicated in January he was open to the move, saying clearing the list would hinge on the availability of additional funds. He noted, however, that the program annually returns unspent funds to the state.