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Teacher raise was needed; amount is not enough

Do Mississippi’s teachers need a pay raise? Of course. Considering it’s an election year, the issue for legislators was not if a raise would be approved, but how much.

On Thursday, lawmakers signed off on a $1,500 raise. An earlier proposal was for $4,000 over two years. Prior to that, a proposal for $1,000 over two years was considered.

The problem for some legislators with the larger amount is funding. Like anything the government seeks to do, revenue is a limiting factor. But considering all we hear from the Republican leadership is that the economy is strong and the state is growing, an argument against a higher raise due to budget constraints is odd.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, a Republican from Hollandale, told senators that giving a larger raise to teachers would mean reducing spending for other state services.

“What would you be willing to cut, because there is nothing left out on the table,” Clarke said. “Everything has been spent, I can assure you.”

Democrats argued that the state can afford more.

A raise of $1,500 is not life-changing. It will not keep a teacher from leaving the profession for a higher paying job. It likely will not be enough to attract more teachers to the profession. But it’s a step toward paying teachers what they deserve.

Lost in the conversation about teacher pay raises is the fact that some, if not all, districts provide supplements to the state’s salary schedule. Wealthy districts offer more; poor districts offer less. We are not suggesting that local supplements raise pay levels to an adequate amount, but they create an unlevel pay range across the state.

Teachers often work a second job in the summer to help pay the bills. And while it is not surprising to see a teacher pick up summer work, it is shocking that many have to work a second job year-round to get by.

Teaching is hard work. It is often thankless. But it should not be undervalued by the people who set the pay scale. Legislators wanted a talking point for the campaign trail and a raise will give them that. But the amount they were willing to give is not enough.