$50M teacher raise proposed by Bryant equals 3 percent boost


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The $50 million proposed by Gov. Phil Bryant for teacher pay raises over the next two years would boost overall teacher salaries by just under 3 percent, the Mississippi Department of Education says.

Based on the 31,658 classroom teachers statewide in 2016-2017, the money would amount to a raise of $790 before taxes in each of the next two years.

Bryant spokesman Knox Graham says the governor doesn’t yet have specific recommendations on whether the raise should be a flat amount for each teacher or distributed some other way.

“In regards to how the raise would be implemented, Gov. Bryant looks forward to working with the Mississippi Legislature to hash out those specific details,” Graham said Wednesday.

Mississippi Department of Education figures show classroom teachers made $44,659 on average in 2016-2017. That includes state funds that are paid based on education and years of experience as well as local supplements that vary by school district.

Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, who’s expected to run for governor in 2019 and first floated the idea in September, also hasn’t made a specific proposal.

“He has been talking to the governor about a teacher pay plan and he’s been working on the details,” spokeswoman Laura Hipp said.

Reeves has been a champion of a program that pays bonuses to teachers in schools that get good state ratings or improve their ratings.

Teachers groups remain wary of the proposal, saying it still feels like an election-year ploy for teacher votes.

“I think it’s an opening bid and I think it will be telling if Tate Reeves is serious about a salary increase, how much he will propose,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of the Mississippi Professional Educators. “The feedback that I’ve gotten is that everyone sees this as a campaign year.”

The raise is one of the major expenditures of the $6.3 billion budget proposal that Bryant released last week for the year beginning July 1. Bryant also proposes $75 million to increase funding for the state’s pension fund, $8.5 million to increase college financial aid, nearly $26 million to increase funding to Mississippi’s foster care program and $17 million to improve pay and funding for the state prison system.

Mississippi lawmakers last approved a $2,500 pay raise for teachers in 2014, taking effect over two years. That cost the state roughly $100 million a year once fully in effect.

The National Education Association rates Mississippi last among states in teacher salary. Mississippi mandates teacher pay begin at $34,390 for a new college graduate. Mandated pay reaches above $67,000 for someone with a doctorate and more than 35 years of experience.

Teachers in states including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia have gone on strike during the past year to demand higher pay. Educators in Mississippi have shown no sign that they plan on doing the same.

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