State Rep. David Baria, a Democrat from the Gulf Coast, called a plan for a $1,500 raise for Mississippi teachers a “meaningless” amount. It’s only meaningless if you make a lot more than the average worker in this state.
The fact is lawmakers must balance getting teachers’ pay up closer to the regional average while protecting taxpayers and the state’s finances.
And Democrats know they are neutered by years of incompetent management of their party so as to have given Republicans a supermajority in both chambers. The opposing party’s only option is to kick up dirt and hope it raises enough of a cloud so that the public will put pressure on the Republicans who call the shots.
The $1,500 pay hike, which went to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature Thursday after a deal was struck this week by the House and Senate, isn’t close to the $4,000 that the House initially proposed, but it’s a significant figure toward improving how much Mississippi pays its educators.
Both conservatives and liberals in the state agreed that teachers are due for a pay increase. Mississippi has the lowest starting pay for teachers in the nation at $34,390 for a first-year educator versus a national average of $38,700 and Southeastern average of about $37,000. Teachers automatically get pay increases with each year of experience based on a standard pay schedule and can make up to $67,370 at the highest levels (35-plus years of experience and advanced certifications). The average teacher in this state made $44,926 in 2017-2018, according to the state superintendent’s annual report, as reported by Mississippi Today.
There are two important facts to remember:
1. Raises are reoccurring expenses. The state, which has received good economic growth reports as of late, could probably float $4,000 per teacher extra for this year. But the Legislature has to think about how it’s going to pay that money every year in perpetuity.
2. Teachers get automatic raises every year based on their years of experience (and regardless of their job performance). The discussion here is about increasing the base pay that is used for first-year teachers and as the calculating point for those subsequent annual raises. Most employees in the private sector in Mississippi, whose tax dollars pay teachers’ salaries, do not get automatic annual raises.
Considering those factors, a $1,500 increase sounds reasonable. The important next step is to continue to chip away at the pay disparity against adjoining states so as to keep existing teachers and recent graduates here. That’s the long-term goal, and it’s more important to have a commitment to reaching those averages over time than whatever amount was negotiated this year.