Teacher pay raise decision could be made Tuesday

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JACKSON – Mississippi’s roughly 30,000 classroom teachers will have a better idea Tuesday about whether they will get a pay raise during the upcoming school year.

The Senate Education and Appropriations committees must pass a pay raise proposal by Tuesday for the issue to remain alive during the 2014 session.

It is beginning to look like a pay raise will pass those two hurdles, based on the comments of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate.

On Friday, Reeves said when asked about a teacher pay raise, “We have always said that it is our belief that we need to pay our good teachers more money.”

Reeves said he has been meeting with members of the Senate “getting their ideas on what we should propose.”

A House proposal passed earlier this session would provide Mississippi teachers a $500 pay raise, starting in January for the remainder of the 2014-15 school year and possibly a $4,250 raise over four years.

The Senate Education Committee could approve the bill as it passed the House earlier this session and send it on to the Appropriations Committee and perhaps full Senate for consideration or it could put its own plan in the House bill. The other option, to kill the legislation, is not likely since Reeves is expected to unveil a teacher pay raise proposal Monday.

Teacher pay is among a handful of key pieces of legislation that face a Tuesday deadline to pass out of committee in the chamber where the bill did not originate.

Other bills facing Tuesday’s deadline include:

• To provide state funds to pay the tuition costs to community college of all high school graduates with at least a 2.5 grade-point average.

• To allow the state Board of Education to establish school districts of innovation that do not have to adhere to all state regulations.

• To revamp the state’s criminal justice system to provide justices more sentencing options, such as house arrest and drug courts for some offenders while mandating longer sentences in some instances.

• To remove the mandate on local districts that school could not start until after the third week in August.

• To prevent people from conducting business that would violate their religious beliefs. Some say the legislation would allow businesses not to serve gays, for instance.

The House teacher pay raise proposal, with the strong backing of Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, would require veteran teachers to meet benchmarks to qualify. Teachers with less than five years of experience would automatically qualify for the raise, but teachers with more than five years would have to meet three of 22 benchmarks spelled out in the legislation to get the raise. The benchmarks range from having advanced degrees, to having a good recommendation from the principal to joining a civic club.

House leaders conceded the benchmarks are an effort to appease both Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant, who both support a performance pay-based model for Mississippi teachers.

Some Democrats, though, have complained about the benchmarks, saying Mississippi teachers, who have historically been some of the lowest paid in the nation, should not have “to jump through hoops” for a pay raise. Plus, some Democrats have advocated a bigger raise.

Under the House bill, the raise would begin in January with a $500 bump. In July, teachers would receive an additional $1,000.

Then the following two years they would receive increases of $1,350 and $1,400 if the revenue grew by more than 3 percent. The total package would cost $188 million, assuming all teachers met the benchmarks and the raise was not postponed because of slow revenue growth.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

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