Mississippi pushes toward deal to increase teacher salaries

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2022

(AP) — Mississippi lawmakers on Wednesday discussed the latest proposal to boost some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation, and negotiators said they hope to reach a final deal soon.

Senators offered an average increase of about $5,100 — a jump of more than 10% over teachers’ current pay. That is a few hundred dollars higher than the House offered last week.

“We think that this is a doable proposal,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, a Republican from Leakesville, said Wednesday.

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Republican Rep. Kent McCarthy of Hattiesburg said House leaders are eager to reach a deal.

“Let’s get this done,” McCarty said.

Under plans offered by the House and Senate, teachers’ base pay would increase by a few hundred dollars most years, with larger increases with every fifth year of experience and a more substantial bump at 25 years.

A beginning Mississippi teacher with a bachelor’s degree currently receives a $37,000 salary from the state, and the local school district can provide a supplement. Under the latest proposal, the base pay from the state would be $41,500. Teachers with higher degrees and more experience are paid more.

Dozens of teachers and school administrators were at the Capitol on Wednesday to speak to lawmakers and watch them work.

“We’re here to tell them a big thank you,” said LaKristie Barner, a second grade teacher at R.H. Bearden Elementary School in Sumner.

Barner said her students have been learning about figurative language and preparing to take a third grade reading exam they must pass to advance to fourth grade. She said most of the children come from low-income families, and she spends a substantial amount of her own money buying pencils, paper and other supplies.

The average teacher salary in Mississippi during the 2019-20 academic year was $46,843, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. That lagged behind the average of $55,205 for teachers in the 16 states of the regional organization. The national average was $64,133.

Under the latest proposal, Mississippi teachers’ assistants would receive a $2,000 increase over two years, taking their pay from $15,000 to $17,000.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he supports increasing pay levels to recruit and retain people in classrooms.

Starkville High School Principal Darein Spann taught high school English for 14 years before becoming an administrator. He said he knows teachers who work extra jobs, and the pay raise would be “a huge investment.”

“When people are looking at themselves and looking at their livelihoods and making a determination of whether or not this is enough to keep them in the profession — I think this investment would help to do that, would change that conversation,” said Spann, vice president of the Mississippi Association of Educators.